Leaders Don’t Use Silver Bullets

The stories are filled with specific dates, names, and specific statements about the beast who terrorized the people in the tiny, French town of Gevaudan in the 18th Century.  The townspeople who saw the beast gave a description of it being part man and part wolf, a werewolf.  This werewolf was said to have attacked more than 200 people.  For months, search parties were sent to locate and kill the beast.  It is said that Jean Chastel, a local hunter, finally killed the beast using a silver bullet.  The silver bullet was heralded as the rare, metal forged into a bullet as the one and only solution to the problem.

Since then, the reference of the silver bullet has been used, and over-used, in all areas and aspects of life in overcoming an unsurmountable problem with “the” magic solution – from the greatest weight loss plan, to finding the perfect soulmate, to landing the best job, to becoming the most wealthiest person in the world!  While many people seem to search for the one, quick fix and holy grail to their problems, real leaders know silver bullets don’t really exist.

In coaching other leaders, I am constantly asked by others what is the “one thing” that can be done to turn around their problem.

  • What’s the one thing I should focus on to improve our test scores?
  • What’s the one thing I need to do to build my team?
  • What’s the one thing I need to do to get the next job?
  • My response is always the same – there are no silver bullets.

Real leaders don’t have the luxury of just relying on one magical, quick, easy solution to any problem.  Too often, leaders get overwhelmed with all the things that need to happen in schools and fool themselves into thinking one initiative, one program, or one focus area will fix it all.

Being a school leader is definitely harder than it was 10 years ago; and, it’s not going to get easier.

  • The rigor has increased.
  • Standards have changed.
  • The need for student safety is even more important physically, socially, and emotionally.
  • Technology keeps changing.
  • The need to connect with parents is becoming even more important.
  • Ensuring students are college and career ready continues to shift to earlier and earlier grades.

And, people think one solution, a silver bullet, can solve all of it?

Staff, parents, students, and even leaders are overwhelmed by all of the initiatives and changes which all seem to be happening at once.  And, while we may yearn for a simple, quick, easy solution in the name of being “focused”, real leaders know, and need to promote, the notion of ‘No Easy Fixes”.  While they don’t use silver bullets, Real Leaders use 3 Key Strategies for Success.

Strategy 1: Real Leaders Use Their Team

With the multiple initiatives that leaders need to oversee, a tendency for some is to feel overwhelmed and unknowingly isolate themselves trying to coordinate, lead, and steer everything.  They tend to feel their leadership worth is based on handling everything and being the leader, organizer, and overseer of it all helps to maintain control and understanding.  Instead, real leaders know they need others in order to help manage all of the initiatives and use the collective genius of others.


Real leaders create building leadership teams to share the work.  They meet regularly, identify goals, develop and implement strategies, and monitor the outcomes.  So, instead of surfing the internet looking for that magical curriculum to purchase or that product which magically solves all safety issues, leaders need to create structures, times, and focus areas for teams to be formed to share the work and leverage the talents of the team.

Strategy 2: Real Leaders Use Technology

With the many initiatives, the use of technology to be organized, communicate, and learn from others is no longer an option.  I’m still amazed by the stand-outs who don’t use tech tools like google applications to share information and be on the same page with their team.  I’m even amazed by other leaders who talk about the need to limit technology in the hands of students altogether in schools.  Google Docs has been a game changer in ensuring teams have up-to-date information, and people are all contributing to the journey together.  It’s not enough for the leader to be using social media tools like Twitter and Voxer, but they need to model, encourage, and push for the use of them with others.

Bethany Hill and I just co-moderated the #ohedchat Twitter session on Depth of Knowledge (DOK).  You can see the chat archive here: https://www.participate.com/transcripts/ohedchat/a0652ab7-e883-4ab1-aade-1d103608ef7c.  We received great feedback, and many leaders from across the country confessed that their initial work in trying to understand DOK and share it with others was either wrong or not as refined as it could have been had they participated in this chat prior.

Reading articles or conducting web searches on professional development resources in isolation will not leverage the strength in learning to you or your schools.  My advice and encouragement is for leaders who aren’t “connected” on social media is to seek out a colleague you know who does use those tools and ask them to walk you through how to use it and then dive in!

Strategy 3: Real Leaders Use Time

As I continue to trek on my leadership journey, I still realize the amount of time initiatives take to be implemented with integrity, fidelity, and consistency in order for them to truly be effective.  The silver bullet seekers are looking for a quick fix, so they can move on to the next issue.  Real leaders not only know that change takes time, but they advocate and generate plans that allow for it.  I tend to get leery when I speak with other leaders or companies that promise things being as easy fix or something that can be implemented quickly.  While I may look for the quick turn-around at the fast food counter or red traffic light, I tend to appreciate the thorough and conscientious time taken by my physician and electrician.


I am looking forward to my second year at Worthington City Schools this fall.  The leadership team is full of real leaders who don’t use silver bullets.  They challenge me everyday and encourage me to consider the three leadership needs from above.  In fitting with the name of our school district, we have a hashtag to remind us that, even in the midst of those hard issues and initiatives, no matter the work involved, #itsworthit.


  1. I would add to this that real leaders listen. Too many change efforts fail because those in charge are so driven to move forward at the expense of understanding how those changes are impacting those around them. This deafness can lead to thinking that they do have a silver bullet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s