Posts Tagged 'integrity'

Principles of leadership from Mother Teresa

This post about Mother Teresa from May 2014 could hardly draw a starker contrast to last week’s post on maintaining sanity in the face of daily barrages of lying and deception from the highest levels of the American government.

What Mother Teresa can teach school leaders

Knowing my interest in leadership, a friend gave me Mother Teresa, CEO, whose authors, Ruma Bose and Lou Faust, extract 8 principles from Mother Teresa’s work:

1. Dream it simple, say it strong.

“Mother Teresa is one of those humans who had a simple dream that profoundly changed our world. Her dream was helping the poorest of the poor. She began with that vision, then developed a clear plan for making it come true. Everything Mother Teresa did in her life stemmed from defining her vision and aligning and rallying all of her resources and supporters to her goal….

“‘Saying it strong speaks to the constant need for a leader to consistently speak with passion and conviction about her vision for her organization. She also must act in ways aligned with that vision.”

2. To get to the angels, deal with the devil.

“Leaders need to know where to draw their lines. Sometimes you have to compromise. You need to have the courage to decide which compromises are acceptable and which are not. You will not always make the right choices and you will get criticized for them. Mother Teresa was criticized about many of her choices. Her response was to stand by her beliefs and focus on getting her job done.”

3. Wait! Then pick your moment. 

“A balance between action and reflection is critical to keep focused during the emotional ups and downs of leadership. When reflecting, ask yourself if you’re moving toward your vision, laying the groundwork to ensure you are ready once the time is right.”

4. Embrace the power of doubt.

“Doubt isn’t necessarily a crisis of faith. Obstacles are a daily part of life. You can have faith that something good is going to happen, but doubt how you were ever going to get there. When we embark on journeys into the unknown, it is important to acknowledge and process our feelings of doubt. Unprocessed doubt can lead to paralyzing fear, but using doubt to question yourself can strengthen your beliefs and free you from that fear.”

5. Discover the joy of discipline.

“In leadership, as in life, discipline is about doing…. Discipline is about the long-term benefit. There is no shortcut or miracle pill. It takes effort and willpower to succeed at business and in life. Procrastination is the enemy of discipline. Mother Teresa believed that if you took care of your small responsibilities, life would reward you with bigger responsibilities.”

6. Communicate in a language people understand.

“Many people approach communication as a matter of consistency, clarity, and presentation style.… Mother Teresa took the opposite approach. To her, communication was often more about listening and observing than about speaking.… She used this information to adapt her language, naturally but intentionally, to that of other people, while paying close attention to their responses. Did they understand what she was really saying? Were they open to her words and intentions? Did she need to stop and listen some more?”

7. Pay attention to the janitor.

“One reason Mother Teresa touched people so deeply was that she made them feel heard and valued. She understood that at the most basic level, we all want to feel valued in what we do, whether by our families, our friends, or our colleagues….

“How do you make people feel valued? Pay attention to them! Acknowledge who they are. Ask them questions. Know their names.”

8. Use the power of silence.

“For a leader, applying the power of silence means clearing your mind and listening to your inner voice. Silence of the mind – stopping your mind – is critical.…

“To silence your mind, begin by eliminating all distractions. If you are in your office, close the door and turn off all devices that would be distracting, such as your cell phone.…

“If you take time to silence your mind regularly, your mind will find the answers you need for every aspect of your life.”

“You don’t have to be a saint to benefit from Mother Teresa’s leadership principles…,” Bose and Faust conclude. “Start today by picking one principle that resonates with you. Implement it and begin to change how you lead your life or your organization. It will make a difference.”

Which of these principles resonates most with you? 

Why integrity is more important now than ever

There once was a universal expectation that leaders would be people of integrity. 

While it was understood that some leaders were not scrupulously honest or failed to fulfill their promises, they were usually chastised, rather than celebrated, and sometimes removed from office when their dishonesty was revealed.

We seem to be at a national low point when it comes to integrity.

That’s why it is essential that teachers and principals establish and maintain high expectations for honesty and promise keeping.

Here’s what I had to say on that subject in March 2013 long before I could have imagined today’s reality.

Choose integrity over expediency

Successful leadership can sometimes be reduced to a small number of fundamental choices. Once those choices are made, they guide decisions and behavior in dozens of situations each week.

One of those choices is between integrity and expediency.

Choosing integrity means we will speak our truth (with a lower-case “t”) and keep our promises in situations when it would be easier not to do so.

Integrity requires clarity about our beliefs, values, goals, priorities, ideas, and practices. In some circumstances it may require courage, or at least a careful calculation of the potential costs of saying what we think.

Expediency, on the other hand, causes stress, creates distrust, and favors short-term gains at the cost of long-term goals.

Integrity has several benefits:

• Integrity creates trust because leaders can be counted on to say what they think and do what they say.

Integrity is contagious and energizes the school community. When principals and teachers speak their truths they motivate others to do the same.

• Integrity eliminates the stress caused by making promises that are extremely difficult or impossible to keep. And because feelings are infectious, calm and focused principals and teachers enable the school community to be more focused and productive.

When integrity becomes a core feature of the school community’s work, an important value is affirmed, relationships are strengthened, productivity is increased, and important goals are far more likely to be achieved, with students being the ultimate beneficiaries.

Consider ways to create positive energy

The beginning of a new calendar year is a good time to consider ways of creating positive energy in ourselves and others, which is truly one of the most important fundamentals of leadership and resilience.

This post from September 2013 points the way to the positive emotions at the core of positive energy. 

8 ways to create positive energy in the school community

Visitors can often sense in a matter of minutes the positive or negative energy of a school. 

Some schools feel welcoming, calm, and joyful. Others feel angry, stressful, and even foreboding.

Fortunately, administrators and teacher leaders can influence the energy and emotional tone of classrooms, schools, and school systems. 

Here are 8 suggestions for creating positive energy:

1. Bring authentic positive emotions such as enthusiasm, hopefulness, and joy into the school community.

2. Use  formal and informal processes to celebrate the accomplishments and strengths of everyone in the school community.

3. Honor those who are not present by refusing to engage in gossip and other negative interactions.

4. Make certain that all meetings are engaging and productive.

5. Ensure that professional development produces meaningful professional learning by putting an end to “mindless” professional  development.

6. Make certain that all requests are carefully considered before making promises, and that once made, those promises are kept.

7. Whenever possible, use careful planning to prevent or minimize problems and the stress they cause. 

8. Maintain an unwavering focus and consistency by ensuring that continuous improvement efforts are based on a compelling vision, shared community values, and clear long-term goals and strategies.

What ideas or practices would you add to this list?

Qualities of resilient people

We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of  “critical mass.” It’s always about critical connections. —Grace Lee Boggs

Resilient people: 

• Are intentional. That is, they are “on purpose” rather than reactive.

Understand that what they do today affects tomorrow. That is, they understand that all things are connected in sometimes subtle and often profound ways.

Display integrity in all areas of life. Because they are honest and keep their promises, people trust them.

Are clear and forthright in assessing current reality, which helps them better understand the root causes of problems and evaluate the actions that are necessary to solve them.

• Align their daily actions with their values and most important goals.

• Are hopeful for a better future which they are motivated to help create.

As a result of these qualities, resilient people are influential, which in turn often thrusts them into leadership roles.

What would you add to this list?

Schools are intensely interpersonal


“[T]he transmission of knowledge is not done in a vacuum. The quality and influence of relationships has a tremendous influence on how and what is shared, and with whom.”

Tarsi Dunlop

Schools are intensely and unrelentingly interpersonal. That’s why the continuous improvement of teaching and learning requires strong relationships founded on trust.

And that’s also why “reforms” predictably fail when they are based primarily on technical remedies such as high-stakes testing and poorly-designed teacher evaluation systems.

A recent study supports those conclusions:

“What we have found over and over again is that, regardless of context, organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals.

“Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; information sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement; and a collective sense of purpose….”

High-quality teaching and learning for all students requires that administrators and teacher leaders develop school cultures that have at their core high levels of integrity, mutual respect, and trust, attributes that are challenging to cultivate and even more challenging to sustain.

Leaders who ignore this challenge or minimize its demands will fail in their most important responsibility—the creation of school communities in which everyone thrives, no matter their age or role.

The 3 basic ways planning can fail, and how to avoid them

Dennis Sparks

In my previous post I recommended “back-of-the-envelop” planning as a way of creating energy and maintaining momentum related to important goals.

There are three basic ways such planning (and all planning) can fail—not having a clear goal that is worthy of our sustained effort, not knowing the specific next step required in the plan, and not having a fail-safe system for recording and tracking the promises we make to ourselves and others for the completion of those actions.

A worthy goal: Worthy goals create clarity and energy. They stretch us out of our comfort zones as we attempt things we may have previously thought were impossible.

Specific next steps: Most of us have fully intended to implement an important idea or skill after reading an inspiring article or book, participating in a team meeting, or having a profound professional learning experience only to discover a few months later that

we had neglected to do so because we didn’t have a system in place for turning our good intentions into actions.

A fail-safe system: A fail-safe system immediately logs the actions we intend to take—which are promises to ourselves and/or others—and provides reminders for their completion. For years my system consisted of ever-present 3 x 5″ index cards, a pen, and a box in which cards were indexed, filed, and acted upon. Today I use electronic reminders that sync among all my digital devices.

As basic as these steps may seem, they are often overlooked in the frenetic days and interpersonally complex work of teachers and administrators. And when they are overlooked, momentum is lost.

It’s also important to remember that our integrity is damaged when we don’t do the things we said we’d do. And when our integrity is damaged, so, too, is trust.

It is much easier to maintain momentum and trust than it is to restore them.

So don’t leave momentum and trust to chance—always know your next action and have a fail-safe system to ensure that you fulfill your promises.

Our colleagues and students are counting on us to do so.

Learning to fake authenticity…

Dennis Sparks To recast a widely-quoted observation about sincerity: “The secret of success is authenticity. Once you can fake it you’ve got it made.”

Leaders’ authenticity helps us determine whether we want to follow them, which means it is fundamental to their ability to influence others.

But for it to be meaningful it must be, well, authentic. That means that any attempt to fake it or follow a script automatically destroys its value.

When leaders are authentic, what they show on the outside matches what is on the inside. Their thoughts, feelings, and values are respectfully revealed as circumstances allow.

For instance, effective leaders are likely to demonstrate in their daily actions (“outside) a belief (“inside”) in the capacity of all students to learn at higher levels and in the ability of all teachers to successfully teach them given proper support.  They also display in their demeanor and words a genuine sense of hopefulness about the future and an infectious enthusiasm for their work.

Because leaders’ authenticity is often communicated nonverbally, it is sensed intuitively. Physician Alex Lickerman describes the process of intuitive knowing this way in a blog post titled “Truth and body language“:

“We all give ourselves away every minute of every day. That is, we broadcast our true intentions, feelings, and even thoughts without knowing it through our body language, tone, and facial expression. This happens whether those intentions, feelings, and thoughts match what we express through language or not. Thus, poker players compromise their bluffs, public speakers their performance anxiety, and friends and lovers their true feelings.”

While authenticity cannot be faked, it can be cultivated when leaders:

• Regularly seek clarity regarding their beliefs and values through writing and in dialogue with trusted colleagues,

• Seek opportunities for even brief periods of solitude to listen to “the small, still voice within,”

• Speak their truths in ways that demonstrate civility and compassion, and

• Frequently reflect on the extent to which their daily actions are aligned with their values and beliefs, including with the school community as a whole.

What are additional ways in which leaders can cultivate and demonstrate their authenticity?

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