In 2015 I attended a leadership training with Tony Robbins. It was a rare experience that changed both my lens on leadership and my personal life. The four days of 10-14 hours per day were high energy and filled with personalized content. It was the most exhilarating and empowering leadership training I have ever experienced! In the training, Tony stated something that has stayed with me in respect to my leadership.
"Live life fully while you are here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird. Go out and screw up! You are going to anyway. So we might as well enjoy the process. Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Don't try to be perfect. Just be an excellent example of a human being."
This simple advice is perfect for middle school leaders. At times I feel leaders get so absorbed in the responsibilities of leading that we forget that middle school leadership is a journey, not a final destination. Thinking of it as a journey, we can reshape how we experience the various aspects of leadership.
When I was in Barcelona, Spain I had an experience that reminded me of this journey. It was my first time in Barcelona and I wanted to "experience everything" as Tony advised. One day I ventured to Montserrat, a magical mountain that's home to the Benedictine monastery and holds centuries of cultural and religious importance. As you head up the mountain, you choose your route to get to the top if you do not want to continue in a car. Option one is a cable car that loads up visitors and gets them to the top of the mountain for the breathtaking views that await in a very short amount of time. It's air-conditioned and a speedy trip to the top. Option 2 is known as the Monks path, and was used by Monks as they entered Montserrat by foot to climb to the monastery. It's a rough dirt path that winds uphill for hours.
These are two very different choices to the same destination. As I considered the choices, I reflected on the similarity to our leadership choices. At times as school leaders we have the choice to take a fast and easy route to reach our goals. The fast route can look enticing because it can boast quick results and have bells and whistles that make the option appealing. At the same time there are always options for school leaders that look like a great deal of uphill work to get to the goal. These options require more personalized work. What is the difference between the two choices? It is simple, the journey. If we look at the easiest and fastest path to reach our goals we may miss a beautiful journey where we can "learn from our mistakes" and "enjoy the process" as Tony Robbin's stated. Sometimes the journey is what makes our leadership stronger.
As I mirrored my choice at the base of Montserrat with the leadership journey, the choice became easy. The Monk's path was the only way to go. It would be hard work, but I began getting excited about all that I would experience along the way. Additionally, I thought how those who chose the cable car would not have the rich experience of taking the path that took time. I would still get to the breathtaking views at the top but I would have experienced a journey by the time I got there.
Leadership is about the journey. In the midst of state and federal mandates, accountability, testing, legislation suppressing our schools, and budget constraints, we as leaders can focus on the journey to grow and be our best selves. Take the pressure off of yourself for perfection and just enjoy the journey.
Nikki Woodson, Ph.D., is superintendent of schools for the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a member of the AMLE Leadership Institute faculty, AMLE author of
Is it Working in Your Middle School?, serves on the board
of governors for International Baccalaureate, and is a
co-founder of Change Makers International.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, October 2017.