Winter Rewind: How Builders
Handle Pressure


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 136

Welcome to the school leadership re-imagined 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.

Hey Builders,

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today we are going to continue our series on boss, leaders, builders. And today we're going to talk about how do boss leaders and builders handle different kinds of of challenges that they're facing things that they're trying to figure out? How do you handle it when you have to make a big decision about something serious like whether or not you've returned to in person schooling or how you make the master schedule for the year or whether or not you hire someone? How do you make those big decisions, especially when those decisions impact the lives of your staff and your students? And especially when you feel like you don't know you're making a decision without all the information you're having to make a decision on the spot and everybody is looking to you for answers. How do you deal with that? And what's the difference between the way that bosses deal with that leaders deal with that, and builders deal with that.

Before we dive in, I want to tell you that we just had Builder's Lab. 

It was so cool at you know, when we first started thinking about doing some sort of kind of virtual event. I've been to virtual conferences and I've actually even they were just kind of excruciating. You sit you kind of watch there isn't that interactivity, it's almost like you're watching you know, a playlist. So we were worried about that. And we designed builder's lab, the 360 degree experience to be not that, you know, we did not want it to be just, you know, sitting in front of a screen all day and being drugged through your slides. And so we investigated technology options, we we went old school and we designed something that is just been really incredible. And so, you know, we really provide this 360 degree experience. And it has it was just so much fun. It was so fun. Watching everybody open their boxes on screen. And I both we built a studio out so that I have monitors all like this bank of monitors in front of me so I can see everybody's picture big. And so I can talk to people and so you know, we had a bird come to builder's lab, someone had a bird perched on her shoulder the entire time, I'm not gonna call her name, but because I don't want to put her out there. But she did have a bird. I'm just you know who you are. And we have cats and dogs and children making visits.

Every time we you know, we moved every day, there was something new to open in the break box, the the conversations that were happening and the small groups were just incredible. The work that was happening. We also have a great new sponsor for builders lab. It's a company called clean slate, and they make these interactive whiteboards that you can use. And so we use them at builders lab. But these would be really incredible for your children, whether they are face to face, or whether they are virtually attending classes virtually or some sort of hybrid of them. These tools are met just like they just amazing. So they work so well at builders lab. So you want to check out clean slate, and I think the clean is spelt with a clean slate. They are incredible. And so we have clean slates and it was just so much fun. But what was even more incredible was that I taught some material in a different way than I've ever taught it at builders lab before. And so we built this lab, it's just every just keeps getting better. And so that's why a lot of people come multiple times because every year we're tweaking it. And so this year, I think, I don't know, like the model is just come together. Maybe it's because I just finished writing the book. And I'll tell you about the book in a second. But the model is just coming together in a way that it is so clear. And the whole idea is how do you turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you already have? And how do you do that in the next three years and we've mapped it out We know what your one needs to look like what needs to happen to your to, and what needs to happen to your three so that you can see that success, we also know how to compress that.

If you are anxious and IF you are really willing to put in the work, you can get there in 18 months!

It's just so good. Anyway, we've released the dates for the next builders lab. So if you missed this one, we are going to do another virtual builder's lab this summer, we we don't know we don't want to keep giving, you know people, well, we're going to be the person or we're not going to be in person, we're just going to do virtually, and it works, though the blk 360 works. And so we're gonna keep that up, we're doing it this summer. And the dates for that are June 28, through 30 2021. And you can go ahead and reserve your spot by going to mind steps slash builder's dash lab. And if you come, here's my here's what I encourage you to do, I encourage you to come and bring your team when you come the beautiful part about like the virtual builders lab is that we can put your team and it's on breakout groups. So there were several teams that have come to the last two builders, labs and they kept so much work done. They, they you know, the team walks out of builders lab with a focus and everybody's ready to go. And so June 28, through 30 2021 will be our next builders lab. And you can get your tickets at mine steps slash builders dash lab. Now, the next thing I want to talk to you is the book the book is coming out this week, I think I think it gets released February five or February seven, I'm not quite sure. So excited about this book, this book has been in the making for almost two years, it took me that long to get my thoughts together to get the model built to test the model out in the wild in schools to collect the success stories that I tell you inside of the book. This is maybe my best book to date, you know, you you can read it. And you can tell me everybody has their favorites. But I don't know something about this book is just different because it really lays out this model. So clearly, and it shows you how you can turn your school into a success story with the people and the resources you already have. You don't have to wait anymore, you can get started right away.

We know the model works because we're This is the model we're using in schools right now. And so I'm just really excited about so you're going to hear more about it. In fact, next week, I'm going to do a whole kind of episode around the book. Now once the book is out, talk you through it, you know that it's gonna be really cool. So we're gonna be doing that next time, but just know the books coming out this week. So I'm a little crazy right now. I mean, we had builders lab, we've got the book launch coming out and the release of the book, we've got Buildership University, we're still you know, adding to that we're getting ready to open the doors to build a ship University in a couple of weeks. So you need to pay attention to that we're going to open up doors for a couple of weeks, then we're going to close enrollment into Builders University for this quarter, and get everyone who comes in acclimated and make sure that everyone is straight. I'll tell you more about pollution University later, but we're having so much fun. And builders from university and the progress that people are making in such a short time, the stuff that we're building together, it's really incredible. So I'll tell you more about Buildership University in the next few weeks as we prepare to open up enrollment for this quarter. So I think that's it for the announcements, everything going on in our world. I'm in Washington DC today, and it is snowing. And so it's the closest we're gonna get to a snow day, you know, but I am just loving the snow. And it's just, it's just a really chill day. So it's a good day for me to talk to you about something that isn't chill, you know, I've got the vibe around me Everything is chill.

How Bosses, Leaders, and Builders handle tough decisions on a day to day basis. 

We've all faced that time when when we have to make a tough decision, we have to make it quickly. There's a sense of urgency around it. Everybody is looking to us and saying Okay, so what are we going to do? And we don't know the answer. We're trying to figure that out ourselves. And that I don't know that there is any greater stress than at that moment when everybody is looking to you and saying you're in charge. What do we do? And you don't have enough information you need time to process but you need people looking to you to make an answer to give them an answer right away. It's so stressful. And so I want to talk to you about the way that bosses deal with that first. So what bosses do is in those times of stress, they just feel the pressure and they just start making declarations because They believe that I need to look like I'm in charge. No one can know that I don't know myself, everybody expects me to make a decision. And so they make decisions, they make declarations without all the information, and they just do their best. And then as they get more information, they issue retractions. And they come back and say, Well, maybe later on are known that this now we're going to do that. And a lot of you have seen that in the recent weeks, as there has been this debate about whether or not we return to school in person schooling across the country, and indeed, across the world.

What bosses do with a situation like that is they just they make a declaration, they say, Okay, this is the way things are going to happen, we're going to do it. And a lot of times they get stuck in that declaration. So once they make a declaration, they don't want to look weak, so they stick with something they know it's untenable, they stick with a policy, they know it's not the best policy, because to them, it feels better to stick with something that may not be right, or maybe flawed than it is to admit that, you know, I need to change my mind or they have new information or things have changed or moved to swiftly. Even if they issue that retraction they're doing in a way that's covering their ego. So they're doing it in a way that cast blame on somebody else or something else, so that they don't look bad. And so with bosses, it's really about, how do I look like I'm in charge. And so if I need to say something to feel in charge or so that other people will think that I know what I'm doing. I'll make those declarations, even if I really don't know what I'm doing. So you don't want to be a boss.

Leaders try to answer questions, and this is a trap! 

So whenever yours you're in a situation and everybody's looking to you for answers, the setup is for you to provide those answers. After all, they're asking you for answers. people deserve answers. And so we go and try to find answers, or we tell people, we don't have answers yet. But we will in a couple of days. And even if you say if you even if you delay it even if you say I don't have all the answers yet, this is all I know, what you're doing is you are setting yourself up as the person who has the answers. And so you're just kicking the can down the road, you're saying I don't have answers right now. But I'll get those answers. And I'll get them to you. You're putting yourself in the position of being the person, the only person who has the answers, and everybody else has to wait until you deliver the answers to them. So it's really not that far from making declarations just like a boss would do. It's trapped. We feel like as leaders, we feel that, oh, we need to be the people with the answers. And some of us are transparent. Some of us are saying I don't have answers yet. Or I don't have all the information or you'll get an answer shortly. And then we go in quest of answers, because that's what people are demanding.

So no wonder we're stressed out right now because we are trying to answer questions that in many cases are unanswerable, or in many cases don't we don't have enough information to be able to answer those questions. And so when any, anytime you put yourself in the position of the person who will deliver answers, then the clock starts ticking, the pressure starts mounting. And a lot of times we will grasp for any answer so that we can go back and deliver it to people who are demanding those answers. And so what happens when you are thinking of yourself as the person who has to provide answers, the person who has to get answers, you look for answers without really examining the problem. At that point, you're not thinking through the problem anymore, you are looking to deliver an answer to people who are demanding those answers. So it becomes this this trap for you. You're always in the position of having to deliver something to people. And if you don't have answers, you will go find them.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

Well, if you are in quest for answers, the first thing that feels like it might be an answer, we might grab that we have a tendency to grab that. And then we want to deliver it to the people so we can just get the pressure off our backs. How many of you right now are feeling that kind of pressure? How many of you right now are feeling this pressure to provide people answers, and you're frustrated because you're looking for answers yourself. Maybe your district isn't being transparent. So you don't know the district issues, you know, edicts and mandates and then you are forced to kind of translate that to your parents, to your your students, to your faculty. And so you feel inept, because everybody's demanding answers. You've got questions yourself, you want answers to but you can't even You don't have the space to be able to ask those questions. Instead, you become this conduit between the demanding parents and faculty and students to the district. And so rather than asking your own questions you're going in and just trying to anticipate what questions they're going to ask. And then you go into those meetings and you ask those questions, so that you can come back and bring answers. Can you see how that's a trap? Because instead of of moving your school yourself, it puts you in this very helpless position. It makes you the errand boy or errand girl for for people who are demanding answers.

Instead of thinking through the problem, you are looking for answers to their questions. And you don't have much room to ask questions of your own, though, bosses, make declarations, and leaders try to provide answers. But what builders do in times like these, we don't make declarations. We don't provide answers. We don't even position ourselves to be the so that anyone would think that that's our role. Builders ask questions. You see, in times of crisis, everybody's looking for answers. But the problem is, if everybody is looking for answers, and no one is asking the right questions, the answers you get will be woefully insufficient to stand up to whatever challenge it is you're facing right now. Somebody's got to step away and ask questions. Somebody's got to be the person who says, Okay, let's take a step back. Let's look at this challenge from a variety of angles. Let's look for what we may not have considered before. One of the things that frustrates me is that every time we hit a new crisis, people still provide and reach for the same Pat answers. I'm not talking about a global pandemic. Here, I'm talking about some of our daily crises, like we don't have all students reading or all of our students don't have a number sense or there are huge growth inequities in terms of services. Or there's there's a inequity in terms of the number of African American students who are being identified for special ed, or the number of African American males who are being suspended, or the number of African American girls who are being ignored and just kind of shattered through the system, or the number of students who are our athletes who are getting hurt, or the number of students who are absent every day, or what whatever your individual crisis is, doesn't matter.

These crises always pop up when we are too busy looking for answers. 

We grab the latest book, or we grab what you know, the school down the street, did we grab something we heard at a conference? Because we're looking for answers. And we never question whether or not that methodology, that technique, that resource is the right fit for our school, we don't even ask ourselves the question, is this a symptom? Or is this the root of the problem. But one of the things that we spend a lot of time we spend like a day more than that, but like we're doing it constantly throughout builders lab, is we're trying to get to the root of your challenge. A lot of people come in, and they say their challenge is that, you know, their students or their test scores have flattened out or their graduation rate isn't where it needs to be, or their students want to be spoon fed, or whatever the big challenge is. And they think that's the problem. So they look for answers to that they they look for answers to to the to raising test scores, or they look for answers to to raise and graduation rates or look for answers to raising student engagement in the classroom. But what a builder does is they step back and they say, Why are students disengaged? why our test scores flattened? Why is our graduation rate, you know, kind of stopped or not growing or as low as it is? What what may be some other explanations for this issue? Who needs to be involved in in pursuing this further? What have we tried in the past? what's worked, what hasn't worked? Why haven't those things worked? Why have the things that have worked worked?

Well, you know, they're asking those kinds of questions, because that's how you get to the root of the problem so that you can solve it once and for all, the moment you shift from, you know, trying to grab at answers to asking the right questions is the moment you shift from temporary solutions that satisfy no one to permanent solutions that solve problems. Builders are not we feel no pressure to provide answers. Well, we have to make a decision but first thing builders ask is okay, someone says we have to make a decision by February 1. We ask why. Why February 1, February 1 is an arbitrary date. It's it's there may be some political reasons for it. But why February 1, why June 1, why? August 2, why whatever date they give you Why that date? builders Don't, don't give in to the pressure of having to have an answer by a certain time. Because what builders know is that if they feel that pressure, if they allow that pressure to drive their work, then they ignore things that could be the solution to the problem. So we resist that, why that date? There's no good reason for that date, then I have time.

Builders not only resist the pressure of a deadline, they also resist the pressure of having a neatly solved problem. 

Builders are transparent, they'll say, we don't we know that this is a problem. And we feel the pain of this problem. But until we figure out why this is a problem, and until we solve that, we will continually deal with this problem. So instead of trying to rush to a solution, we're going to take our time, we're going to trace this problem until we get to its root, and we're gonna kill it at the root. When you ask questions, instead of providing answers, you open up avenues to success and solutions that other people have ignored. When you ask questions. Instead of seeking to provide answers, you get everybody out of panic mode, and into truly solving problems. So I know that you're facing a lot of pressure right now. Everybody wants answers. And it may be hard to resist the pressure, because everybody is stressed out, everybody is looking to you to solve the problem. You've been trained, that that's your role, that's not your role, your role is not to solve problems, your role is to make sure problems get solved. Do you know the difference? When when you are the person who solves problems, you every everybody else can abdicate their responsibility because they your that's your job, my job is to be over here and wait for you to solve my problem. And so when you see yourself as a problem solver, that that is your role.

I've seen people say I'm the problem solver. And then what you're doing is you are casting yourself as the only one with the solutions. And you're trapping yourself into this, this cycle of problem and pressure. And then you have to find the next solution. Nobody wants to live like that. But when you see yourself as your as someone whose job it is to make sure the right problems get solved the right way, then it's not on you to provide the solution. Instead, it's on you to facilitate an environment where people can find solutions on their own. And to help people understand what's the right ploughed problem to solve, and and where can we find the right solution. When you step out of that, that role of problem solver in chief, you actually solve more problems, you you you actually set yourself up to provide better solutions to problems. So yeah, you'll still, you know, people will still come to you with their challenges. But as a builder, you're not saying Okay, leave it here on come back in a couple of days, and I'll have a solution for you. Instead, you're asking questions, why is this a challenge right now? Why is this challenge showing up right now? Why are we are? Why are we dealing with this? Is there something else that's driving this? You're going to ask those kinds of questions. And when you do, you're going to come up with better solutions that solve things once and for all.

No more temporary solutions. No more Band Aids. 

No more, let's appease the people no more making declarations that you have to you know, later retract. Instead, you solve problems. You spend the time asking the right questions, you spend the time really getting to the root of something, you spend that time really solving that problem. And it never shows up again. You see, as long as you're just grasping for answers, problems keeps showing up and they pile up. And that's why I'm seeing so many people stressed out right now because it's been piling up for a long time. And as soon as you answer one question, something happens. And now you've got to answer this one. As soon as you think it's settled over here, it pops up again over there. That is exhausting. What builders do is they're just not worried about it. People. You know, we build a ship University. We were having office hours the other night, and everybody's kind of stressed. It's a lot going on in schools right now. And people were there, just dress it and we were talking and they were like, well, they're asking this answer and that's a woman. That's our builders. Now. What's the question? We should be asking ourselves and the conversation is shifted. people walked out, you know, people were saying, Well, I have to do this and they said Why? Why do you have to do it? And you know, they never question why they had to do something. They just have Words. So under so much pressure that anytime somebody said, well, you got to do it this way, you got to get it done now, people were just kind of absorbing that pressure and saying, Okay, and then trying to figure out how do I get it done? That's what is pursuing answers does for you.

As soon as a problem comes, you feel like you have to provide an answer for it. And you never interrogate that problem, you never question whether or not that problem is the right problem for you to be working on right now. The moment you take yourself back, and you stop trying to solve problems, instead, you ask the right questions. That's the moment you free yourself, you free yourself from the tyranny of other people's demands. And instead, you do work that actually makes a difference. So I want to challenge you this week. Next time, some pressure, some deadlines, some problems, some issue shows up. Just watch yourself, ask yourself, How am I handling this? Are your instincts to be a boss, make a declaration so that you can, you know look like you're in charge, or your instincts towards leadership where everybody brings a problem and you start trying to solve it without really examining whether or not it's the right problem that you should be dealing with right now? Or whether or not it's even a problem at all? Or did deal with that problem, like a builder.

Take a step back and don't rush.

Ask the right questions, resist the pressure, and actually solve the problem once and for all. I want you to watch yourself this week, look at your instincts and and see where your instincts are leading you. And if they're leading you to boss ship, or, or leadership, then I want you to know that there's another option. You do not have to feel the pressure that you're feeling. You do not have to scrambling to everybody else's demands. You don't have to settle for Band Aid solutions, or you know, quick fixes. You can take a step back. Take your time, ask the right questions. solve the problem for good. And you can do it without stress. You can do it without pressure. You can do it with confidence. That's how you handle big issues, #LikeABuilder. 

I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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