It’s becoming a common response in our house when someone complains lately:
- Somebody used all of the hot water! First world problem!
- I can’t record a TV show because there’s no more room left on the DVR! First world problem!
- My iPhone only keeps a charge for 10 hours! First world problem!
- People will make fun of me if I ride the bus. First world problem!
- The refrigerator is too far away from the couch! First world problem!
- I ran out of lives on Candy Crush! First world problem!
Isn’t it amazing how our perspective drives a lot about how we act and react to perceived problems?
I remember being in my first year as a Central Office Administrator and had a huge problem one day. I don’t remember the issue, but I remember that it was really important. I remember being nervous and pacing the building until the Superintendent finally arrived. He was a seasoned veteran and must have sensed every part of anxiety in my body when he finally walked in.
Right before I was about to drop the hugely massive, complex problem he held up his hand to silence me and said the following:
- “Will this issue impact us for the next 10 years?”
- “Remember that it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
- “No matter what, we do what’s best for students.”
- “Keep in mind that 7 billion people in the world may not be affected or care about this.”
After that, he lowered his hand to allowed me to proceed.
Even after a split second in matching my quickly diminishing problem against his words, I knew the answer. A huge weight was lifted, and I felt an embarrassed smile come across my face. I turned around and walked out of his office, for I knew the answer.
Not all the time, but many times we find ourselves paralyzed about an issue in which we create our own roadblocks. We build a small pebble of a problem into a huge boulder based on worry, doubt, and fear.
Again, not all the time, but sometimes, we need to step back and put the issue in context to better understand how to address it. Regardless of the size, here is a quick guide of “5 Things to Get” to help make the right decision:
5 Things to Get
Many times, problems appear to be bigger than they are. We stress over them and let them dictate our mood and even let it question our leadership abilities. It’s important to run through the filters my Superintendent gave me above to put the problem in the proper perspective before moving on.
Get Questions Answered
As soon as a problem arises, we tend to go in to solution mood. While we may have a problem, we may not understand it fully. Instead of leaping into solving it (and possibly making it worse), step back and ask questions. This will help to presume positive intent with others and seek to understand first:
- What are all the sides that created the problem?
- How did it occur?
- Who needs to be involved?
- What other information do we need?
Get Some Rest
All too often, we believe that urgency is necessary when a problem arises. Not all the time, but waiting does help provide context and options to open up. A mentor constantly reminded me that “Not making a decision is making a decision”. I have been often surprised that in the midst of planning, a better decision is made than what I could have imagined.
In this constant barrage of technology access, having the ability to respond quickly is not always the best option. If time is not of the essence, even waiting 24 hours can do wonders. Instead of firing emails and texts after an initial incursion, it might be best to sleep on it and let emotions temper before a response for a more clear decision.
Get a Process
Real leadership occurs when regular communication, feedback, timelines, and monitoring systems are in place. I’ve seen decisions made on false assumptions by hearing things second hand. Then, misinformation is provided too late with no understanding of the process.
It’s important to establish work plans at the beginning of each process. It’s even more important to make sure it is clear with everyone and milestones or checkpoints are set up to monitor the plan. Without them, decisions are made in isolation and mistakes tend to occur.
Get a Mentor
I am still amazed when I meet people who are silent when I ask who mentors them. As if this concept shows weakness or a formality of title or process, many leaders desire to learn and grow but don’t have a mentor. It is important for everyone (no matter what stage or title you hold) to have a mentor. Having a person you respect to hold you accountable and coach you is crucial. Meeting with this person regularly can definitely help in the decision-making process. A mentor once told me that it is important to have someone from another school district, or even vocation, to allow you to talk freely and provide an objective view.
By employing these “5 Things to Get” as your guide in decision-making, you will be more apt to lead with certainty and follow-through. These five things aren’t magic and won’t prevent a problem from occurring, but they will help to provide corrective action with the least amount of stress and maximum clarity for all.
If you have other “things” that leaders should “Get” to help make decisions, please leave a comment below!
Neil, you hit it out of the ballpark with this one. The leadership that your superintendent modeled is excellent, and now you are sharing it with the world. It’s a great way to put things in perspective. Your 5 tips are things we should all “get” in 2016. I plan on using it to guide me this year! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks, Jennifer! I hear a lot of younger ed leaders asking me questions about my decision-making process, so I thought it would be good to have it written down.
Neil: Fantastic post! I’ve been a school leader for 8 years now and wish I had this blog post 8 years ago! What a great framework that I’ll now pass forward to the leaders I’m working with. THANK YOU!
Scott – thank you so much for the kind feedback. I appreciate it!