Bosses, Leaders, Builders


Note: ​School Leadership Reimagined is produced ​as a podcast and designed to be ​listened to, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number one.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson. Yeah.

Hello there, and welcome to the inaugural episode of School Leadership Reimagined. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson, and I am so excited that you're here. I'm serious. I have been working on this podcast for months now and I've been struggling to keep it a secret and as my team and I prepared for today, my team literally had to say to me over and over and over again, OK, ​Robyn, bring it down and notch. I mean, I've been on 10 for weeks and the reason I've been so excited is because for years I've been really frustrated because I have a ton of things to share with you that I never get a chance to share and literally have entire notebooks full of ideas and strategies and tips and tactics that have wanted to share with you, but they weren't quite right for a blog post and yet people would ask me all the time if I had something that could help them develop the right kind of mindset, especially if they took on a leadership role or they wanted practical strategies so they could use to do their jobs better.

And before now. I really didn't have a consistent or reliable way to provide the kind of short, tactical, practical training that I wanted to provide. So I design ​School Leadership Reimagined to offer you short immediately actionable practical tips, strategies, and tools that you could use to finally help you have the impact that you want to have in your schools. So this podcast is specifically designed for principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, instructional coaches, anyone who has an administrative role or had some sort of leadership role, and you want to up-level your leadership because you know that you're destined to do more than what you're doing right now. You are. You are destined to have a bigger, bigger impact, and I see each episode is kind of a mini training of some aspect of what I'm calling build your ship. Now. I'll go into a little bit more detail in just a minute about what I mean by builder ship, but for now know that each episode of ​School Leadership Reimagined, we'll look at a different way that we can reimagine school leadership, where we can rethink what's possible for our schools and in the process.

I want to reignite your passion, re energize your work so that ultimately you can have a bigger impact and reach bigger goals for yourself and for your schools. Now on today's, I want to go deep into exactly what I mean by the term buildership. Plus I've got a really good Freebie for you today. It's a handy little chart that helps you determine whether you're a boss, a leader, or a builder, and I'll tell you more about how you can get that Freebie at the end of the episode.

Now, before I jump into today's topic, I want you to know that today's episode is sponsored by Mindsteps Inc, and that's my company. It's a professional development from for providing builders ship training for K12 principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders as well as teacher training when things like rigorous instruction supporting struggling students, motivating reluctant learners and differentiated instruction.You can learn more about how Mindsteps Inc can support your professional development needs by going to ​

Now I want to tell you a story.

A few years ago I made the leap from being a teacher to being an instructional coach and then from an instructional coach to being an administrator, and by the time I became an administrator, I had moved to a different school. While after a few weeks the area superintendent stop by the school and while he was there he ran across me in the hall and he stopped to check on me and see how was doing in my new administrative role, so he may polite Chit Chat and then he asked me how things were going and whether I was having any fun and you know, now I probably would know better, but back then I thought he was actually really interested in my answer.

So I said, well, to tell the truth I'm a little bored. Well, as soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them and the reason I regretted them, what's because he kind of stood there looking at me for a few seconds in shock. He didn't know what to say. He wasn't expecting me to give that answer. And then finally he kind of smiled weakly and he patted my shoulder and he said, well, you'll get the hang of it soon. And then he walked down the hall to the main office and probably was trying to hurry up and get away from me. Well, at first I thought, oh my goodness, I'm going to get fired, but he didn't fire me. He just never asked me how I was doing ever again. But here's the truth. I was bored. I felt like I was solving the same five or six problems over and over again, and at first I thought it was just that I was missing teaching, you know, in the classroom.

I felt like I had a much bigger impact. I felt like I was making a bigger difference and that's an administrator. I felt like I was doing a lot of paperwork and procedures, but over time I realized that it wasn't just that I was missing teaching. There was something missing from the job. Now I did come to enjoy the job of being an administrator more and more, and I even got pretty good at it, but I always felt like something was missing. I was never able to shake that feeling wasn't until one day that I came across this blog post by a guy named Amir hate and it was in the Harvard Review. Now, don't worry, I'll link to the article in the show notes if you want to see what I'm talking about, but he's an economist and he wrote an article called the builder's manifesto, and in it he says that leadership is no longer enough to deal with the crises that we face in the world.

Now, let me read you a little bit from the article, so he says that I'm going to mispronounce this, but Abraham, Zell as nick, so Abraham zealous, nick famously defined leadership as using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people. Think about that for a minute. Using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people. So already that doesn't jive with my whole idea that I really want to influence people. I want to help inspire people and it's not even influence them. I want to inspire them. So he goes on to say influence is the key word. The textbook skills of the quote unquote leader, which are persuasion, delegation coalition, well, they aren't universally applicable. Rather they fit a very specific context. Best the giant evil industrial era organization. How did this particular skill set emerge influenced counts because the vast cough cast bureaucracies that manage twentieth century prosperity predated intern the need for leaders, people who can navigate the endlessly twisting politics at the heart of such organizations and so ensure their survival, but leaders don't create great organizations.

The organization creates the leader.

Wow. That really hit me and I thought back to that conversation with my area superintendent at the beginning of my administrative career and suddenly I realized why I was so bored. It wasn't that the job itself was boring between the students and their parents and sometimes even the teachers, there was always something crazy happening. The reason I was bored, what's because I wasn't built for leadership. I didn't want to go into an organization and merely maintain the status quo. I want it to do something different, to build something, to inspire people to move beyond what they thought were their normal capabilities. That's what made me happy as a teacher and I didn't want to give that up just because I was now an administrator. I wasn't satisfied with incremental gains. I wanted something more. We see. I think came in educator because I wanted to make a real difference in the lives of children.

Can you relate to that? Isn't that why we all came to this profession and as a teacher I felt like I was really making that difference, but as I rose through the ranks and became more and more of a quote unquote leader, I felt, I don't know, disconnected from that difference. I felt like I wasn't able to have that same kind of impact and people tried to tell me that in managing the master schedule process each year or in completing my teacher evaluation forms or during lunch room duty every day that I was making a difference, but it sure didn't feel that way. In that article. Amir hake introduces a new term. He says that what the world needs now is not leaders who are created by organizations to maintain organization's needs. Builders who build a better tomorrow and, and that's what was missing for me and for the last few years I've talked to and worked with and trained hundreds of school administrators all over the world and they tell me that that's what's missing for them too, and maybe that's what's missing for you.

So for the next few years I tried to figure out what would it take to move from being a mere leader who was maintaining an organization to becoming a builder who was taking that organization and transforming it and making it something better for our students. But I assume encountered a couple of problems. So the first problem was how could I make this very inspiring, ideal, practical? I'm a pragmatist at heart. I needed a way to take this lofty ideal and, and break it down and show people how to move from leadership to build a. What were the stats? What did it look like? The second problem I encountered was even harder because how do I explain? Built a ship in a way that helped school leaders everywhere understand it and choose to step outside of their comfort zone and dare to do something even greater than they ever dreamed.

Since I challenge myself with started thinking like a builder instead of like a leader, the world of education began to open up for me and so I started trying to figure this out and in the process of figuring it out, by vision expanded, it was no longer limited by bureaucracies or institutions. I wasn't satisfied anymore with small goals are tiny incremental improvements for students. I started dreaming bigger and I started seeing those big dreams actually become reality in the schools that I began to support. So the more I moved away from leadership and closer to build leadership, the more that I've figured out and try these strategies, the bigger my vision became and the bigger my impact became and what's more. I actually discovered what I call my zone of genius and I get to live inside of that zone of genius every single day. I'm not bored anymore and it's not just because I no longer leader school.

I'm no longer bored because instead of focusing on solving the same five or six problems every single day, I'm tackling problems. Everyone else is saying they can't be solved and I'm finding ways to solve them and helping other people do the same thing. So I have spent the last nine years figuring this out. I've tested different models I've created in them, rejected countless ideas. I read everything I could get my hands on and I'd spend hours writing about this and I've finally come up with a builder ship model that is both practical and doable and now I am ready to share it with you. And that's what ​School Leadership Reimagined. It's all about each week I'm going to share with you practical, actionable ways to go from being a leader to becoming a builder. So this week and our very first episode, I'm going to unpack this idea of building the ship a little bit more and I want to challenge you to reimagine your own leadership path because I honestly believe that you are called to be so much more.

There's a bigger difference that you're called to make in the world.

​You with your unique combination of gifts and skills and experiences you are called to make an impact in this world that only you can make, and the problem is that leadership lunch that impact as long as you rely on leadership and all those leadership skills that we're trained to use in schools, your potential is confined by the status quo. It's really hard to move beyond it and best leadership allows you to improve on yesterday. Build​ership builder, allows you to build a better tomorrow. So let's first talk about how build​ership. It's different than leadership. While there are actually three types of school administrators or instructional leaders, the first is a boss, the second is a leader, and the third is a builder that don't forget, I've outlined in detail each type of leader in today's Freebie, which is called are you a boss, leader or builder?

And I'll tell you how to download it for free at the end of this episode. So let's start with a boss. Now a boss is the kind of leader who spends most of his or her time behind a desk in an office and we've all had bosses. They they kind of sit behind their desk and they give people directives. They never are out in the hallways doing the work. They're always telling other people how to do the work. Anybody out there ever work for a boss or as my sister often calls it a boss hole, and if you ever have, then you know there's nothing inspiring about working for a boss because the boss doesn't walk the talk. They just sit there and they, they, they send out all these different mandates, but they never actually practice what they preach. So over the years we've gotten away from that boss model principles no longer kind of sit in the office and fill out bus schedules.

Now principals are expected to be instructional leaders in their buildings and no longer are department chairs just sitting in their office and building supplies for the book room. Now Department chairs are expected to go out and be examples and be. And so over the year it's education has really embraced this idea of a leader and a leader is a lot better than a boss because a leader kits out there and they walk the talk, they're walking alongside of their people. They're not just saying, hey, go out and do it. They're out there doing it with people and the models that we've used create all kinds of opportunities for us to get into classrooms and to give people feedback and opportunities to build programs and yes, it's better than being a boss, but here's the problem. When you are a leader, you are right there with everybody else, which means that your vision is limited because your vision can only go as far as the vision that everybody else has.

Do you see what I mean by that? If you're standing next to somebody else, then you can only see as far as they can see. You can't go beyond that and if you can't go beyond that, how can you call anybody to go beyond what they can see? If you're always right next to everybody, if you never go out ahead and scout out what things are going to look like ahead, how can you come back and tell people this is the right direction? You are making things up just along with everybody else. That's one of the reasons why I don't buy this idea of shared leadership and in a later episode I'll tell you what I mean by that and why that's such a problem, but for now, the big problem that I want you to focus on is that as long as you are walking alongside the people that you're leading, your vision is limited.Your ability to help people and be inspired to go beyond their own vision is limited because you're seeing the same thing that they're saying because you're standing exactly where they're standing. 

Now, builder is a little different

​It's something that we haven't spent a lot of time in education talking about. It's a new kind of leader and not many people in education have become builders yet, but if we're ever going to solve the problems that we need to solve in education today, it's only going to happen because we have builders, so a builder doesn't stand with everybody else. A builder goes out ahead before everybody else goes and a builder scopes out the landscape, figures out the best way to get there, and then a builder starts building what they are inviting everybody else to be a part of before they invite them. So rather than having people trying to convince people to buy into some big ideal that hasn't been created yet, a builder goes out and they start building it and when they come back and say, hey, listen, here's where we're headed.

Even the people who are naysayers and say, that will never happen. It's impossible. The builder says, no, no, no. It's already happening. Take a look ahead. I've already gotten it started. Come with me and help me finish this thing that can be built together to see the difference. Well, here's the difference in a nutshell. Bosses, they say go and leaders, they say, let's go, but builders to elders say, come and I love this. I love this idea of, of calm, because instead of trying to drag people towards your goals, you're actually inviting them to join you in building something bigger than they ever thought they could imagine. Now, can you see how much more inspiring that is? Can you see how much more engaging that is and can you see how much easier that is? Because you're not dragging people towards a goal. You are enticing people towards a goal.

So let me give you a couple of practical examples so that you can see the difference for yourselves.

So the first example has to do with change bosses. They focus on change and a lot of times bosses do change for change sake, so every year we have to write a strategic plan or every year we have to start thinking about what are we going to do the following year? And they just throw up a strategic plan. They change for change sake. We'll leaders don't do that. Leaders aren't just interested in change. Leaders are interested in improvement. If we raise test scores by two percentage points last year, let's see if we can raise them by another two percentage points this year and we're told that incremental improvement, it's good, but here's a challenge. When you were focused on incremental improvement, you relieve tension. If my goal is a hundred percent, then the tension stays there until I get to a hundred percent.

The urgency stayed there until I get to a hundred percent. But if I try to incrementally increase my goal every year, here's what happens. I gain two percent. The tension is relieved. Yay, I've G, I've reached my goal, but I still have more to go, and instead of keeping that tension there, I get excited because I reached two percent. While you set a goal for two percent, that two percent got you closer to a hundred percent, but you're not there yet. And what would've happened if you had set the goal for a hundred percent, could you got gained by four percent or 10 percent or 20 percent in that particular year? So the leaders focused on improvement, but focusing on improvement often limits the scope of what you're able to do. A builder, on the other hand, I'm builder focuses on transformation. They are not satisfied with tiny incremental gains.

Although tiny incremental gains can help you get where you're going. They're not satisfied with that though they don't relieve tension. Yay, we made two percent gains. We made 10 percent gains. They can celebrate those milestones, but because the vision is bigger than that, because the vision is a hundred percent, a hundred percent, then what happens is as they move forward, they hit these milestones, but they keep the emphasis on the goal. Can you see that? I mean, think about it this way. What would happen if you set a goal for a hundred percent of your students performing at grade level or above in math and reading? Now a lot of you are saying, Oh Robin, you're so naïve, you'll never get there, but what would happen if that were your goal? How much more could you accomplish if you weren't satisfied with incremental gains and you've made that your goal 100 percent recently.

We just had our annual intensive here in Washington DC and we call a ​Builder's Lab and we had school leaders from all over the United States and Canada and the Caribbean who convene here with us in Washington DC for three days of intense learning about how to become a builder and at the end of that intensive, everybody's set a goal and we pushed each other hard. We weren't saying 10 percent gains. We had people setting goals like a hundred percent of our students are high school. Seniors will graduate and meet the California state requirements for graduation. A hundred percent of our students will be reading at or above grade level by grade three. Now, those are big goals, but I would argue that nothing gets your juices going back. A big goal. Nobody's going to be excited about a two percent gain, but 100 percent. Isn't that why we're here? Isn't that the work we should be doing?

So that's the difference between being a boss, a leader, and a builder. ​A Boss ​makes change for change sake. A leader looks at improvement's, but a builder, looks for transformation, but here's another one. Bosses react to mandates, so a lot of times boss bosses, vision is limited by the mandates that are coming down from above will lead us to a little bit better because leaders draft strategic plans, but a lot of times our strategic plans are so dry and so stayed. We draft them once and then we don't look at them again until the following year. They don't inspire people for action. Here's what does. Builders. Builders focus on a transformation process. They're not thinking about the strategic plan with little small tweaks. They want to transform their schools and they're not satisfied with anything less. Now, a lot of people get excited about this idea about being a builder.

They say, yes, that's exactly what I want to do, but then they stopped cold. They fade. I want to be a builder, but my boss doesn't lead this way.

How can I be a builder if my boss isn't a builder?

Well, I want you to know that build a ship will work even if you're not the official quote unquote leader or even if your boss isn't on board. So let me give you an example. This also happened last year at builders lab. We had an assistant principal attend on her own, but she was really eager to make an impact in school and she was really hungry to learn how to get her school moving in the right direction, so she was excited to be there. But around day to a builder's lab, when we typically start talking about how to hold teachers accountable, she got really upset and during the break I went over to talk to her to try to find out what was wrong and she was.

She was on the verge of tears. You see, right before she left to come to ​Builders ​Lab, she put out an email to the members of one of the departments that she supervised asking them to develop a support plan for students were failing their classes. That seems reasonable enough, right? While she had been talking about this for months with that team so they knew what was coming and she thought she had everybody on board. She even given them resources and she'd done a mini training on developing student support plans using our student success plan template and don't worry, I'll link to the template in the show notes if you want to check it out and learn more about how you can use it with your students to prevent failure. But anyway, she was working on getting her teachers to do this for awhile and she finally had set a deadline for when teachers need to complete their own plans and submit them, but while she was away a builder's lab, some of her teachers went to her principal and they complained about this project and I bet you can guess what happened next.

That's right. The principle caved and told the teachers that they didn't have to do it or rather that they could make it optional. Well, she got the email from our principal saying that he was going to make these success plans optional during the session where we were talking about building an accountable school culture and that's what made her so upset. She said, how am I supposed to help teachers be accountable when my principal undermines me every single time? Now I don't even know her principal, but I was already mad at him cause I, I hate that kind of stuff, but, but here's why. Build a ship comes to the rescue. You see in a leadership paradigm, it's top down. Leaders have to abide by what their supervisors one, even if that's not what they want. Leadership doesn't give you any tools to help you manage your boss, but a ship isn't top down.

It's geometric. It's three dimensional. If you're a builder, you're able to influence those above you, those beside you and those below you. You're not limited by your position. So what we did was we developed a plan to manage her boss. We started by writing an email to her boss that tactfully suggested that before he made the program optional, they should talk. And then we use a strategic conversation framework to map out exactly what she would say to him on the call. We also thought that we should consider his will driver to make sure that we were structuring the conversation in a way that was going to be motivating. So we designed the conversation in a way that would feed his will driver and motivate him to support her. And don't worry, I'll put a link to where you can get the strategic conversation frameworks and learn more about will drivers.

And plus I'll be talking about both of these in an upcoming episode. Well, that afternoon after the session was over, she called them and then she used the tools that we'd worked on to help her manage the conversation. And in the end her boss relented and supported her and she came back to me the next day. She was so excited. She was also still kind of shocked because she couldn't believe it. Usually when she tried to have that conversation with their boss in the past, he would get all defensive and shut her down. This time he actually listened and he actually supported her. She could not believe it, but that's the power of buildership. You don't need positional power to be a builder. You can have amazing impact right now, no matter what your current position is, if you're a principal and you've been frustrated in the past because you can't get everybody on board or because you've got these top down mandates and your district doesn't understand what you're trying to do, build a ship can help you manage all of that, and if you're an assistant principal and you're dying to make changes in your school, but your principal isn't onboard yet or worse, they undermine the good that you're trying to do.

Buildership can help you manage your principal and get him or her behind you.

Now, if you're an instructional coach, you might be frustrated because without the positional power of being an administrator, you can't seem to get teachers to do. When you ask, build a ship is what you need. It'll help you do that, and if you're a teacher leader and you're trying to figure out how to have real impact in your school, I've got one word for you. Buildership. I'm telling you, no matter what position you have, you can be a builder even if your boss isn't onboard yet, so the only question now is, do you have what it takes to be a builder? Well, do you want to have bigger impact that you're having right now? Do you have goals and dreams for your students that take them far beyond even what they can imagine for themselves?

Are you tired of the status quo and are you ready to do something more? Do you feel trapped by the current leadership tools that are available to you and you want a more effective way of getting everybody on board and moving in the right direction? Do you see your job as more than just paperwork and procedures? Do you see yourself as an actual change agent? Do you feel called to do something more than what you're doing right now? If so, then you're ready to become a builder and each week I'll give you powerful tools, strategies, and action steps that you can implement immediately so that you can handle each challenge you face and more than that transformed your school like a builder.

So here's what I want you to do right now.

If you haven't done so already, I want you to subscribe to this podcast. That way you won't miss a single episode. And if we're not already connected on Linkedin, what are you waiting for? I'm Rob​yn Jackson on Linkedin and I would love to be connected. It's a great way for you to give me feedback on each episode and to tell me what else you'd like to hear from this podcast. So go on over to Linkedin and let's connect right now. Now before we go, don't forget that you download today's Freebie​ "Are you a boss, a leader, or a builder" by going to ​​, or if you're away from your computer right now, simply text the word episode, and the number one altogether, no space to the number three, three, four, four, four. That's "episode1" to the number three, three, four, four, four. So that's it for this episode, but I hope I got you fired up a little and ready to take your plates. It's part of this growing movement of builders happening all over the world together. We are going to transform education now.

Next week, I'm going to share with you six steps you need to take in order to transform your school and why now is the perfect time to start. I cannot wait for this episode. It's going to be so good and very actionable. You do not want to miss it, so that's it for today. Five for now, and I'll see you next time.

Thank you for listening to the ​School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads and visit​ ​

​School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.