Leaders Gotta Develop Thicker Skin!

Scientists at MIT engineered an invisible form of second skin which not only protects the skin but also can reshapes it.  My son got geeked out about the video below that shared this breakthrough in multiple applications for patients and shared it with me.

I am completely amazed by the genius in creating a chemical solution to treat the skin in a physical sense.  But, what has been created to help people with their skin at a deeper level?

Leaders are told that the leadership journey is tough, and it’s important to “develop a thick skin”.  But, what does that mean?  What does that look like?

In connecting with educational leaders, there’s an overwhelming sentiment that leadership means not everyone’s going to like you or decisions you make.  In fact, it is not a question of “if” but “when” people will not be happy with a decision that you make as a leader.  While the goal is always to seek win/win solutions, not all decisions may produce this result.

So, how can a leader prepare and develop thicker skin?  Below are “4 Don’ts and 4 Do’s To Developing Thicker Skin”.

The 4 Don’ts

  • Don’t Make Decisions to be Liked.  I personally struggle with being a people pleaser, but I know that there’s no possible way to be liked by everyone all the time.  Leaders fail when they make a decision out of popularity instead of the real needs of the organization.  Resolve to give up on trying to make it about winning a popularity contest.
  • Don’t Take It Personally.  I hesitated adding this to the list – shouldn’t it be personal when leaders are passionate about kids?   Yet, when people don’t like decisions that are made, they may target your character or motive, instead of the actual topic.  It definitely hurts.  Resolve to look past what they are saying literally and know their emotion may be guiding them.
  • Don’t Lead with Emotions.  This “Don’t” follows the one above, because it’s easy to return fire with fire.  Being a leader is taking the higher road knowing that emotions may be running wild from all directions.  Resolve to stay grounded in facts, core beliefs, and data to share and reiterate the decision-making process.
  • Don’t Hide.  In the midst of controversy or disagreement, a tendency might be for people to shut down and hide in a shell.  Out of exhaustion or fear of what to say or do, this only heightens the issue.  Resolve to make statements and reasons public and be open to meeting with others to restate your decision or process when needed.

The 4 Do’s

  • Do Have Clearly-Defined Norms.  The better leaders can define and communicate norms, the easier it will be to make the decision as well as sharing how the decision was made.  If the norms are clear about student safety or doing what’s best for kids, it serves as a filter to issues with cost or decisions that may not always be best for the adults.
  • Do Gather Data and Feedback.  Many times, decisions can be made clear with data to break assumptions and feelings.  Although people may still not like it, data doesn’t lie.  Leaders should also foster feedback from “Critical Friends” – other leaders who challenge your thinking and motives.  They are ones that you trust and don’t have fear in providing feedback that may be contrary to your thinking.
  • Do Raise the Voice in Others.  Leaders don’t have to be an island.  Although the leader may have to be the voice of the final decision, having a team to help in making the decision builds critical mass.  In addition, when people share their disapproval, leaders can and should help foster the voice from the silent majority to help carry and affirm the message.
  • Do Prepare.  Being a leader dealing through issues can wear on you.  I’ve seen people respond to controversy by shutting the door in their office, getting stressed by carrying the burden alone, and not being able to let it go.  It can be unhealthy and take a toll on you as well as your family.  Leaders need to take care of themselves not just mentally but also physically and spiritually – exercise, eat healthy, pray, and get away with trusted friends to laugh.

I was talking to a friend who is in the theatre profession about this blog, and he said that developing thicker skin is a necessity in his profession.  When asked about the secret to success, he responded that the best ones know it’s part of the job and to always look for ways to use the feedback to get better as continued learners.  As leaders, we need to continue our leadership calling and embrace the notion that developing thicker skin is part of our personal growth.


  1. Thank you for this very uplifting article. As a new superintendent I found this very topical and extremely helpful. Thanks.

  2. I find myself frequently “taking myself” out of the equation when responding to conflict. It allows me to “walk a mile” in the other person’s shoes. I know that in most cases people aren’t upset with ME but with the situation or the decision. But I do agree – it took some time to develop this skill. Thanks for the blog!

  3. As I was perusing through my feeds, the picture captured my attention. This very article is what is needed now as we plow through the rest of the school year. The one that really resonated with me was Don’t lead with emotions. I try to give myself permission to step back from a situation/dilemma with students and/or staff and process….count to 10 as they say! Great reminder, thanks.

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