Success Secret #2: Say “no” more than you say “yes”


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 215

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Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robin Jackson.

And today we're continuing our summer of Success Series by sharing with you yet another success secret. This one is could be slightly controversial. It's not like hugely controversial, but it does require a paradigm shift because this success secret is this. Builders say no more than they say yes. Builders say no more than they say yes. So let's talk about that. Let's unpack what that means. And why it could be the thing that that really makes a difference for you this year. Because right now, it's still the summertime, you you are you know, making your strategic plan for the year you're considering all the opportunities. Maybe you're reading a whole bunch of books that have been on your reading list, maybe you're reading some of the ones that are on our summer reading list. Maybe you are going to conferences, and I'm hoping I meet some of you at some of the conferences coming up. But you maybe you're listening to these keynotes and going to these sessions, and you have all of these ideas and you're so excited, you're like this is going to be the year, we're going to do things differently. And you start thinking about all the things you can add to the school year. And the problem is that you're going to get all excited and think about adding all these things. And you're going to be doing all the things and it's not going to make a bit of difference. In fact, it might actually slow you down or hurt your progress towards your goals. You see, we are trained by leadership to always look for the new thing, the next thing that the best thing, you know, we use terms like best practices, and we look at different programs. And we get inspired by what other schools have done. And we think that in order to achieve our goals, we have to do all the things, here's what else we do.

We also think that we have to solve all the problems. 

And so all the problems that we had last year, we are developing plans right now to solve them, you know you're doing it, go ahead and admit it right. So everything that got on your nerves last year, everything that you felt like really stopped your progress, you are including those things in your summer plan and your strategic plan for the year you are you are buying programs right now to solve those problems you are you are hiring staff to fill those gaps, you are adjusting your schedule and adjusting your tools in order to be able to address those problems. But here's the secret that builders know. Not every problem deserves to be solved right now. And this is what makes builders ship so hard. And if you are if you have just started your journey about being a builder, you are so excited about your vision you are so excited about about that 100% goal and you are so excited about how you're going to get started. Then the next impulse, the very next impulse you have is either a feeling of overwhelm, overwhelm and dread or a feeling of just impending doom when you start thinking about the work that you have to do to achieve that vision. And then in response to that dread, you go out and you do all the things. So I see people listing all the problems from last school year and then creating a strategic plan to solve those problems. And the problem with that is that the moment you solve those, all problems, you create new problems, but the discipline of being a builder Are is to recognize, yes, we have problems, but you sift through those problems, and you decide what needs to be solved right now. And you focus on solving the most important problem and removing it for good. And you say no to every thing else. And that's what makes the leadership so hard because our leadership training has taught us that if there's a problem, you have to solve it, and you have to solve it right now, there may be people are saying, well, what about this? And what about that? And what about this, and they may be bugging you about and expecting you to come up with a solution. And as a builder, you have to say, I understand that those are problems. Right now we're focusing on this, we're not doing anything else until we get this solved. And then once that solves, we'll take another look. And we'll see what's the next most important problem to solve. And we'll solve that. 

Now, here's why that is so powerful, when you are doing all the things and you are chasing all the solutions, you take your energy, your focus, your resources, your concentration, and you disperse them amongst all the things. So I give 10% of my time here, 20% of my time here, 15% of my time here, and guess what your 10% effective over there. 20% effective over there. 15% effective over here, when you are a builder use you, you take that step back. And you look at everything that's going on, because the 8020 rule is real, right 80% of your pain, and your lack of progress comes from 20% of your problems. And so find that 20% find the things that really matter. And then focus 100% of your attention on solving those things, because that's what's good. That's where you'll derive a huge amount of benefit and your school. Instead of what we do is we waste time, trying to spread ourselves often thinking we're solving problems, and really doing a lot of busy work, spending time, effort and energy on things that really at the end of the day, don't matter. Builders say no more than they say yes. And the thing that I want you to think about right now, especially over the summer, is that there are all these opportunities in front of you all these things that you could do. Every year around this time, we start feeling like oh, we could do this. And we could do that we can do the other. And we make these beautiful plans and the summer. And then when we get to school in the fall, our plans quickly fall apart. Because we're trying to do everything. Builders are playing a different game. Alright, in the leadership game, you want to look like you are effective. And so what you do is you solve problems, right? Or you create plans to solve problems, so that you can look like you're doing something builders are willing to risk not looking like leaders. That's faith. 

I was about to say something else. But essentially, that's it. Builders are willing to risk not looking like leaders. So they can accomplish something bigger than they could if they were looking like leaders, were willing to focus on one thing and let some other things just simmer until we solve the most important thing. And as a result, we make more progress. And the reason we do that is because builders are playing the long term game. I was working with a group of principals a couple of weeks ago, and I was talking about that 100% vision and for many of those principals is the first time that they heard it. And then naturally had a little bit of a reservation because they said, Well, what about this? And what about that? And what about the other, and I share with them some advice that one of my mentors gave me one time, and I'm sure he got it from somebody else who got from somebody else. But the advice stands. And that's this. We overestimate what we can accomplish in one year. And we underestimate what we can accomplish in three years. The problem that most leaders face is that they try to solve all their problems this school year. And as a result, they stay on the school improvement hamster wheel. They're constantly working really hard trying to solve all their problems at once this school year, and they just face defeat after disappointment after defeat after disappointment after frustration, because they're trying to do it all at once. They say yes to everything.

Builders are playing the long game. 

So what builders are doing is they recognize that instead of trying to solve it all on one year, they can solve everything in three years and probably do more in the course of three years. So builders approach their problem solving with with a long term lens They're not stressed about having to get everything done by June of 2024, or 26, or wherever, whatever your next June is, instead, what they are doing is they are thinking about what can I accomplish in the next three years? And what problem can I resolve right now, so that it never shows up again, which then frees us up to build what we are building over the next three years. And when I share that, with this group of principals, you get to see the relief come in certain parts of the room. Now, some people, they were so caught up in leadership that they didn't want to hear it, they were like, No, we gotta solve everything right now, I guarantee you, I guarantee you that at the end of next school year, those people are going to be in relatively the same place they are right now. Because they're trying to do everything. But the people who choose the builders way, the people who say, You know what, we're not going to solve everything, we're going to solve the most important thing. Those people at the end of next year are going to look very different. Because they put in the time and energy and work into solving the right problems. And not trying to solve everything, saying no to everything else, and spending their time solving the right problems and solving them once and for all. Those are the schools that are going to look different next year. 

So how do you figure out what are the right problems? If I've convinced you that you got to stay say no to a lot of stuff and say yes to the right stuff. If I've convinced you of that, then I want to share with you how builders Think this through. Now, if you are in builder, ship university, you will this will sound familiar to you. This is the alignment architecture. But I'm going to share a couple of things with you. If you're not in builder, ship university, you don't have access to the alignment architecture, which shows you how to really prioritize problems and lead your teams and doing the same thing. I want to give you a shorthand to help you resolve problems right away and find the right problems to resolve so that you can say yes to the right problems and the right work and no to everything else. 

Okay. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is, if I solve this problem, does it move us closer to our vision, mission and core values. So again, and build ship university, you have the alignment architecture, which takes you through that whole process. But if you don't have access to the alignment architecture, let me give you the shorthand, you have to ask yourself this question and you want to write problems, you want to be very objective about it, taking a look at a problem and saying, is this a problem I need to solve right now? The question is, if I solve this problem, will it get me closer to my vision? Will it get us more in alignment with our mission and core values? If the answer is no, it's not the right problem to solve right now. So the first thing you're gonna ask yourself is, is this is solving this problem in alignment with where we are trying to go as the school is solving this problem right now going to help us make significant progress towards her vision. And I mean, you have towards our vision, and then is it going to help us be more in alignment? Keep work keep the work more on mission? And is it going to keep us more in alignment with our core values? So you're going to answer that question first. And again, if the answer's no, it's not worth your time. 

Right now, short may be annoying, but that's not the right problem to solve. 

Okay, so once you get a yes from that, the next step is you're going to ask yourself, is the Do we have the skill set we need right now to solve this problem? This is why this question is really important. Because a lot of times, there are problems that you do need to solve, but solving them requires that you go acquire an entirely new skill set. And maybe it's worth it to you. But there are some problems you can solve right now that are creating a lot of drama in your school that you can solve right now with the skill set you have. And those problems are going to be a lot easier to solve, you can get them done quickly. And you can eliminate those problems and move on with your life. So you want to ask yourself the question, is this problem something that we can solve with the skill set we have right now? Or will we have to acquire a new skill set to solve the problem and the problems that you can solve with the skill set you have right now, those are the problems that are going to you're going to end up saying yes to more while you develop the skill set to solve some of the other problems down the line. What you don't want to do is ignore the problems that you could be solving right now with the skill set you already have it you know so that you can go build a new skill set to solve this other problem down the line and meanwhile all these other problems are festering. So you want to rate your problems based on is this something that we can solve right now. And that also helps you really look at the resources you have and stop thinking you got to go buy a new program. Hey, Robin here and I just want to break in real quick to ask you a huge favor. You see, I want to get the word out to everybody about build USHIP. And I could use your help. 

If you're really enjoying this episode, would you mind just going to your podcast platform and leaving a quick review? You see the reviews get the word out. They tell other people, this is a great show other people who have never heard of school leadership reimagined before can hear about it. And you'd be sharing the word about build a ship. So would you mind just leaving a quick review? It would mean the world to me, okay, now back to the show. A lot of people, they, for every problem, they're saying, well, we need to go by a program, we need to bring an outside person and we need to go do something else, when in fact, you already have the resources and the skill set. Right now to solve that problem. One of the reasons we talk about and build a ship University, how you can turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you already have. It's because we vastly underestimate ourselves. We vastly underestimate our ability to solve our own problems without having to go get outside help. So if you really look at your problems and say, Okay, what is it going to take to solve this problem? And do we already have that skill set, those are the problems you want to say yes to right now. And then if there's a problem that's pressing, and important, it impacts your vision, mission and core values, which you don't have the skill set for. That helps you determine what professional development you need to be investing in throughout the year to do that. By the way, I'll just say this, a lot of times when there's a problem I cannot solve right now. And because I don't have the skill set to solve, the first thing that I do is I try to find somebody with that skill set. And I go study under that person. Because, yeah, I could go spend six months developing the skill set on my own. But if it's a really important problem that needs to be solved right now, and I don't have the skill set, I find a mentor with that skill set, because they have the experience and the expertise I don't have, and they vastly accelerate my ability to acquire that skill set. So I can solve the problem more quickly. So if you don't have the skill set, it doesn't mean you go back to school and you get another degree it it means that instead, you might find somebody who does have that skill set, and you might invest in working with that person for a while to do that. 

So I always have a mentor. 

I'm always working with a mentor, because there are problems I'm trying to solve about building this 100% vision and, and helping my vision for for for builders ship University, which is that we help 100% of the people in build a ship University achieve their vision in three years. And there are things that I don't know yet about how to do that there are problems that I encounter in pursuing that vision that I don't know how to solve. And because I have a sense of urgency about that vision, that I have that passion for the people and build a ship University, I will go out and invest in a mentor or invest in a coach invest in learning from somebody who has already solve that problem. That's how I choose my mentors. And so you might not have the skill set. And if you recognize that, and the problem is still important enough to solve it, don't waste a whole bunch of time, you know, spending a year trying to figure it out on your own, find somebody who's figured it out, learn from that person, read their book, go study under them, go take a workshop from the go find a mentor, so that they can accelerate your progress. So you can move on that I'm done with that commercial. That was an OSI. Alright, so first step isn't an alignment is solving this problem in alignment? In other words, to solving this problem, move you closer towards your vision, help you keep your work more on mission and be in alignment with your core values. If that's the case, if there's a yes there, then go to the next question, which is, do we have the skills already to solve this problem? If the answer is yes, you can go to the next question. If the answer is no, can I get them quickly? Can I find somebody who knows it or knows how to do it? And I can I study under that person? And then they helped me get the skills or acquire the skills quickly. Okay. 

Now, if you've got a yes, for the first two questions, the third question is, how much effort is it going to be? The reason that this question is so important, is because I think a lot of times, we don't weigh the amount of effort it's going to take to solve a problem. Yes, it's really important. But we, we don't really think through the amount of effort it's going to take. And so we pile our plates with 25 different things to solve. If it's going to take a tremendous amount of effort, and you still important, then you are going to have to let go of something else. The best problems are the ones where you say no, we could do it right now with a minimal amount of extra effort on our part. And if you could think through that and find ways to reduce the amount of effort it takes to solve the problem, then you're more likely to go solve it. So you want to think about that. How much effort does it take and the problems that when are the ones where you can say you know what, this is an alignment. We already have the skills To solve it, and when we really think about, it's not gonna take a whole bunch of effort on our part. Well, that's a yes. If it is going to take a tremendous amount of effort, and it's important enough, then go ahead and solve it. But it's going to take a tremendous amount of effort. And it's not important enough, then you save that for later, you start thinking about, alright, what would reduce the amount of effort if we solve this problem? First, when solving this problem, be less effort, go solve the other one first. As a builder, you're thinking through, you're using that framework to weigh problems. And at any point, at any point, when you go through that process, and you say, You know what, we don't have the skill set for this right now. So even if we wanted to, we couldn't do it, then you need to move on and say no, to solving that problem right now, and move on to one that makes more sense to solve. If you're looking at the problem, you say, now, it's, it's annoying, but it's not really threatening our vision or our mission or core values, then you have to have the discipline to say, No, this isn't a problem we're going to work on right now. I know it's annoying. But let's work on the root problem, let's work on the real problem. 

Let's solve this. 

And maybe by doing that, this thing will not be as annoying. If you're looking at and you're saying you know what, it's going to take a lot of effort. And we don't have the capacity right now to expend that amount of effort, then you solve other problems. So you can free up the capacity to bait later on, go back to that problem. You don't have to solve everything. And we got to get out of this mentality that we do every summer, where we're saying, You know what, all the problems last year, we're going to solve this year, plus all the new problems that are gonna come up this year, you don't have to solve all the problems this year, you need a longer viewpoint. As a builder, you're always thinking in a three to five year timeline. And remember, we overestimate what we can do in one year. So let's stop trying to pile on all the things and just focus on the things that matter most that way, you get real tangible wins throughout the year. And you solve problems once and for all, you don't just kind of put band aids on problems, you actually solve the most important problems. And if every year you're doing that, you will not be able to help but make progress plus, the work will feel better, the work will feel better. 

Right now a lot of us are working really, really hard at on problems that don't matter. And every year, we are exhausted. And we're like, you know, I mean, I did a lot this year when I look back, but doesn't feel like I accomplished anything. Why? Because you were solving problems, that don't matter. But if you started saying no to anything, that doesn't matter. So you could focus exclusively on the things I do. If instead of trying to solve 10 problems, you found the one VA problem, that was the most important problem to solve. And you worked on that problem to the exclusion of everything else. And you built your tolerance to let some stuff wait. And so that you could work on the thing that really mattered, and then have the big victory. What could your year become? So that's the problem right now, with so many people, we're impatient, we're chasing these little teeny wins. And in doing so we're sacrificing the big victories. But as a builder, you're going to this year, weigh the problems that you're going to solve and you're going to choose the problems that are the most important problems to solve. You're going to choose the big victories, and you're going to sacrifice the little wins. You're going to say no to the little wins. So you can have the big victories. That's how you approach problem solving in a way that allows you to go from one victory to the next victory, like a builder. 

I'll talk to you next time.

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