Leading from the Fog
I'm an avid game player. Always have been. When I was growing up, my parents worried that I took board games too seriously. I can't imagine why, but...
I read the Monopoly rule book for fun. I pored over the official Scrabble dictionary to increase my repertoire of obscure two-letter words to close out games. (Did you know "aa" is a type of lava and valid Scrabble word?!) When my wife and I first started dating, our relationship nearly ended over a Pictionary disagreement.
Leading during uncertain times is not a game. It is of critical importance and the stakes are very real. At the same time, the situation many school leaders find themselves in is eerily similar to the "fog of war" setting in one of my favorite strategy-based games.
When the fog of war setting is turned on, you can only see the strength of an opposing player in adjacent territories. Your vision of the rest of the territories is completely hidden making even the smallest decisions exceedingly difficult. Sound familiar?
We lead better when we understand the rules, variables, and people we serve. Teaching and leadership is challenging in a routine year. The complexity of the work increases exponentially when we're leading from the fog. This begs the question, "How might we help the people we serve succeed when things feel so foggy?”
There are a few ideas and phrases I’ve found myself circling back to on a regular basis. They are not fancy, but they’ve helped me when I needed vision and grounding. I’m hoping one (or more) of them might encourage you.
4 Tips to Help You Lead from the Fog:
1. It's okay to take it a step at a time. You may not be ready to tackle tomorrow's decisions...let alone next month's...so make the best decisions you can now and be okay with waiting for more information and clarity on the decisions you're not ready to make yet. When it comes to games, the mentality many chess players have does not apply here. Situations are still so fluid that trying to think eight moves ahead can actually be counterproductive and lead to false-starts.
2. Communicate with clarity. Just because things seem foggy doesn't mean our communication can be. Work with your teams to determine what you know and what is important to communicate now. People will need to be trusted to interpret things that aren't in the rulebook, so support and empower them in doing so.
3. See their strengths. No matter who you're partnering with...people appreciate being seen. They also need to know their strengths still matter. That’s because one of the biggest strengths people possess is their past experiences. Reassure people that many of the rules remain the same. Talk about what's the same to help co-create a solid foundation from which your team can build a future upon.
4. Everyone makes mistakes. Be big enough to admit when you've lost your cool or been less than your best. This applies to leading in uncertain times, but it also applies to those unbecoming victory dances you (or your overly competitive friend) do during board games. Extend the benefit of the doubt and don't judge your team based upon their worst moment or how they responded under stress. When it's helpful, circle back to talk through difficult moments to gain a better understanding of how you can help.
If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.