“What is your biggest weakness?”
A school board member asked this question during a recent interview. I was prepared with an answer as it’s a common question, but my answer was the result of a great deal of reflection.
I have struggled at times with not recognizing or acknowledging some of the good that’s right in front of me. It had become one of my biggest weaknesses. My staff deserved better. They needed me to be better, and I needed to do something about it.
The first thing I needed to do was determine why. Why was I not seeing or acknowledging the positives which were all around? It wasn’t because of a lack of good. And it wasn’t because I didn’t care. Something was getting in my way.
And there it was. A Marcus Buckingham quote which resonated with me more than any quote had in some time.
Leaders are fascinated by the future. You are a leader if and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. Because in your head you can see a better future. The friction between "what is" and "what could be" burns you, stirs you up, propels you. This is leadership.
This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. Our schools and students cannot reach for greatness unless we’re pushing the status quo and striving for something better. However, my focus was out of balance. I had been allowing my focus on the future to cloud much of the good happening right in front of me every day.
“What could be” was blinding, and it became a detriment to my staff. They knew they were doing good, but I wasn’t always seeing it. I needed to be better for them so they could be better for kids.
While I serve our small K-8 district as both superintendent and principal, I have been blessed with a phenomenal assistant principal. We've had regular conversations about how to raise staff morale. And, together, implemented multiple things to be better for those we serve.
One of things we did I’m most proud of was our effort to recognize and document the Best Thing I Saw Today. We made a point to be regularly visible around campus and in classrooms. We were on a mission to find something good. Once we did, we would journal it on a shared file that each staff member had access to. The link to that file was also a part of weekly staff newsletters.
What started out as a mission to find the good became a friendly competition between our assistant principal and me. We enjoyed finding the good, sharing our findings with each other, and then sharing them with the staff. We both found ourselves in better moods, and the staff appreciated the acknowledgement.
Our staff knew we were on a mission to find and acknowledge the positives all around campus. In communicating this with them and keeping up with our documentation, we had established built-in accountability. This was important. While some weeks were more difficult than others due to various distractions, we found great value in being held accountable by maintaining an updated Best Thing I Saw Today journal. It was genuine and sincere, and just want I needed to maintain a better balance between “right now” and “what could be.”
Hawk Nelson, a contemporary Christian music group, has a line in a song which says you’re gonna find the good if you’re good at looking. They’re absolutely right. And it's important for all of us to become good at looking for the good.
It’s all around us.
Just waiting to be noticed and acknowledged.
Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.