You can’t outwork your problems


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 228

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

And today I want to talk about a phenomenon that I'm seeing a lot happening in schools. And it always happens this time of year, the school year started and we are you know it the honeymoon period is over. You know, we're kind of in the thick of things right now. And challenges start coming up. And about this time of the year, people start working late. People start working weekends, people start taking work home every night, everybody feels overwhelmed and behind. And a lot of times we accept that as just part of the job. And we that's what the leadership paradigm teaches us. You know, sometimes you have to work weekends, sometimes you have to work late. And people feel like when they're in the building, they need to be totally available to the people who are there, the students, the parents, the teachers, and so they take home all the work that they have to do and they they try to do it other at other times. Or sometimes you hit a snag, you hit a challenge, there's a wrinkle in your plans. And so you just buckle down, you roll up your sleeves, and you just work harder and you feel like if you can just work harder, spend more time put in a couple of nights, put it a couple of weekends, the problem is going to be solved. But here is the problem.

You can't outwork your problems, there are some problems that you just can't out work, no matter how much extra time you put into them. 

That extra time is not enough to solve problems, not the problems that you're facing in schools. The reason that we are struggling is because we're just not working hard enough. And we think that hard work should be able to solve every problem we face. But you can't outwork some problems. So what do you do instead? Well, let me give you a scenario for you to think through kind of an example, let's say that you have several teachers in your building who are struggling this year, maybe they're new to the profession or new to your building, maybe you're implementing a new curriculum, and they're pushing back a little bit around that, but they're struggling for whatever reason. And so we think that all we need to do is we need to get into more classrooms, we need to give them more feedback, maybe we need to bring in a coach to support them. And, and so we spend a lot of time just kind of showing up and giving them feedback and throwing a whole bunch of support at them. And then they don't get better. 

Let me give you another scenario. Maybe you are seeing a rise in disciplinary issues. And so you're spending a lot of time in your office right now just working with kids and trying to get them back on track. And then you go and you revamp your disciplinary code and and you you know, have town halls with kids and different grade levels or teams, talk them through that you meet with parents, you tried to put things in place to kind of avert these disciplinary issues and you're doing all of that and you're not doing the work that you also have to do and so you're taking that work home on nights and weekends and you're just trying, just putting in more time you're just throwing more time at the problem, hoping that that time will be enough to help you feel caught up to help you feel back in control of the work that you have to do to help you feel like you're making progress and it fails every day. single time, because there are some problems, you just can't out work. So what do you do? Well, I want to talk to you about how builders approach problems. You see, not every problem is a problem that you need to be solving. So you've heard me tell this story before, you know, your job is to get across the river, not fight all the alligators along the way. And so not every problem is a problem that you should be solving.

So the first thing that builders do when they're feeling overwhelmed, and they're all these problems in front of them, is they challenge the notion that this is a problem that needs to be solved right now. And instead, what they do is they go back to their vision, their mission and their core values. And when they're looking at that problem, they're asking themselves some very simple questions. Is this problem threatening our progress towards our vision, mission and core values? Or does it have the potential if it's left alone to threaten our progress towards our vision, mission and core values? The answer's no, then that might not be the problem you need to be solving right now. Doesn't mean that you roll up your sleeves and try to solve every problem presented to you builders are very picky about which problems they solve. The other thing that they're asking themselves is, is this a root problem? Or is this a symptom of a deeper problem? You know, what leaders do is they don't ever interrogate the problems that they're facing, they're just up. Here's a problem.

My job as a leader is to be a problem solver. 

And, you know, by now that builders are not thinking about themselves as problem solvers, they're thinking about problem preventers. And so what they want to do is they don't want to just address the the problem that's presented to them, they want to actually look at that problem. Figure out is this a symptom of a deeper problem, because rather than solving the symptom, I need to go deal with the root. And so they don't look at every problem and immediately react to that problem. Instead, what builders do is they say, is this a problem I should be solving? Is this a symptom of another deeper problem that really needs solving. So why waste time with this one. And when you do that, as a builder, you you're you, you pick and choose the problems you solve, but when you solve them, you solve them once and for all, you're not putting band aids on things, you are actually solving the problem so that it never shows up. Again, I think that's one of the big differences between being a leader and being a builder, a lot of times leaders just want to get things off their plate. And if you don't solve the problem once and for all, it's just going to crop back up later on.

So you play this giant game of Whack a Mole always batting down problems. And it's the same problems every single year, if you are dealing with the same problems every single year, then you're not solving the problems, you're just kicking the can down the road, you're just delaying the problems, you're just putting them off, and they show back up later on. So no wonder you feel overwhelmed. Because not only do you have the new problems that present themselves every year, but you've got the old problems that you never solved from last year, cropping back up at this time of the school year. And so you think, Oh, I just need to work harder. But I mean, at some point, you really run out of hours in the day, you really run out of energy to be able to continually solve problems that should have been or met, even solve to continually address problems that should have been solved. So you never had to deal with it again. 

So the first thing builders do is we're very picky about which problems we take on. But if I take on a problem, I'm gonna solve it. And if I don't feel like I can solve it, then I'm not going to take it on right now. Because I'm wasting time. And so as a builder, you have to reject the notion that every problem requires your attention, some problems, yeah, their problems, but they're not threatening my vision. They're not threatening my mission. They're not threatening my core values. They don't represent a root problem. So those are not problems that need me right now. And even if I tried to work to deal with those problems, I'm not able to come up with a solution. So any work I do is just wasting time. Instead, I need to focus on the problems that are a real threat to my vision, mission and core values, problems that are root problems, not symptoms of deeper problems. And when I work on them, I need to work on them until they don't, they no longer exist, I need to work on them until they are completely solved. That's the best use of your time.

So if I have to stay late, or if I have to take work home, I know that I only have to do that for a short period of time because I need to solve the problem. 

And then I'm never going to have to do with that again. If you're not doing that you're wasting time because those problems are going to crop back up. And you're just spinning your wheels and no wonder you're feeling overwhelmed and overworked and tired. Tired and despondent and frustrated, because you keep solving the same problems over and over again, rather than solving them once and for all. Okay, so the first thing builders do, we're picky about the problems. And if we take on a problem, we're going to solve it once and for all. The second thing that builders do is builders are always looking for leverage, right? So leaders jump in, and they say up, there's a problem, I'm the leader, I must solve it, they pull out their superhero capes, they do all this work to quote unquote, solve the problem. And in the process, they create more work for themselves and other people. Let me give you an example. Let's go back to the teachers, I have struggling teachers, right. So what a bill, I mean, what a leader will do is a leader will, you know, spend a lot of time getting into those classrooms, then spend a lot of time providing support and feedback and, you know, going over and over and over again, and thinking that they are the only ones who can do that work. And they work with each teacher individually to be able to do that. And so they are running around spending all this time and hoping and then basically, because they don't, you know, they're not always the right person to be actually doing that work, they can, the best thing to come up with is a band aid solution. And so they don't really solve the problem with the teacher struggling, they just delay but the big major impact of that struggle on kids, sometimes they teach the class themselves, they call it modeling. But basically, they're free sub for that teacher, and they go in and try to show them how to do it, or they they write the lesson plans or they collect lesson pant plans and pour over those lesson plans, and check the lesson plans and then they make themselves responsible for what goes on to that classroom.

Hey, it's Robyn here real quick, I just want to interrupt this episode for just a second. Because if you are enjoying what you're hearing, then would you mind sharing this episode with somebody else. So all you need to do is just go to your phone, if you're listening to on your phone, or your podcast player, and then click the three dots next to this episode. And it will give you the option to share the episode that if you do that three things are going to happen first, the person that you shared with is going to think you're a hero, especially if they're struggling with what we're talking about right now. They're gonna love you. Secondly, you're going to feel good, because you're going to get the word out about builder ship and start building this builder ship nation. And third, you will get my eternal gratitude because I really want to get this out to the world. And you'd be helping me out, you'd be doing me a huge favor. So please share this episode with someone right now who's who's dealing with this same issue, someone you think would really benefit. And now back to the show.

So instead of helping those teachers get better, they just take over the classrooms and they become the teachers.

So not only have you not solved the problem, but you created more work for yourself. It's crazy. Now, here's what builders do. Once builders say, Okay, this is a problem that I should be solving. And this is how I can solve it so that it never shows up again, the next thing that builders do is then they say where are my points of leverage? So they're asking, Okay, if this is what I believe the teacher needs the first question, they're asking, am I the right person to do it? Or is there someone better equipped to do it or something better equipped to do it. So instead of going in each classroom and spending 45 minutes in a classroom, builders, leverage micro slicing, and they go in the classroom for five to seven minutes. And the whole purpose of being in that classroom is to use the micro slicing strategy to identify the root cause for why that classroom is not working. They're not spending 35 minutes, creating a laundry list of all the things that went wrong in the classroom and then sitting down with the teacher and giving the teacher that feedback. One thing, that's it, and then once they know the one thing they're going to, before they meet with the teacher, they're gonna figure out how what kind of help that teacher needs.

You see, just because I'm struggling classroom management doesn't mean you have all the answers yet. To what degree am I struggling in classroom management? Do I not have things in place? Do I have things in place, but I'm not enforcing those things on a consistent way? Do I have things in place but there's one thing that may be missing it until I figure that out? I don't know how to help you. So not only am I gonna say up is classroom management, but then I've got to sit down and figure out all right, at what level what degree of help do you need in order for you to be better for that problem of, of, of kids not learning your classroom to go away. And so, micro slicing five to seven minutes, sit down, come up with the root cause I didn't FYI at what level, I need to provide the support. And then when I sit down with the teacher, I'm not just kind of, you know, giving the teacher a laundry list of all the things that they didn't do, right? Instead, I'm saying, here's the thing we're going to work on, because this is the one critical piece that we need to put in place in your classroom in order to make the big difference.

And then, depending on the support the teacher needs, I'm either going to provide myself last resort, or I'm going to find the right person, or thing or program to help the teacher get the support they need to so that what the whatever problems happening in their classroom is resolved once and for all. I'm looking for leverage. And that way, not only am I solving the right problem, but I'm solving the right problem the right way. And I'm solving the reason I'm solving the problem the right way is because the leverage point allows me to get the teacher the help the fat teacher needs in the best way for that teacher, and Newsflash, I might not be the best way.

So why am I going and wearing myself out trying to work really hard to support a teacher when my support might not be the support the teacher needs. 

So first, get picky about your problems. Not every problem needs to be solved. But if you're going to solve a problem, you need to solve it. Second, once you know, this is the problem I need to solve, identify the leverage points, what are my points of leverage? What can I do? How can I solve this problem quickly and efficiently in the best way possible. And I need to also accept the fact that I might not be the right solution that there is another solution out there. And if that's the case, I'm going to find the leverage point, I'm not going to try to work hard, how do I solve the problem thoroughly and quickly and efficiently. And so I'm looking for the leverage point. And then the third thing I'm going to do is that once I have identified the right problem found the leverage point, then I'm going to put a system in place to make sure that that problem doesn't crop up again, what's the system that I can put in place, so that that without even thinking about it, the supports are getting to the right people, progress is being made. So that once I put the system in place, the system takes care of the problem, not me, I've done a whole podcast about you know, systems and the power systems. I'm a big believer in systems and and build a ship University, we spend all level two, putting in key systems every, you know, everything we do requires a system. And the reason for that is because a lot of times people are making stuff up as they go, and they keep making stuff up over and over and over again. Whereas if they just put a system in place, the system takes care of it, you know, people are trying to carry everything around in their heads versus putting a system in place. So they don't have to do that.

A lot of what you are dealing with in school, so a lot of the reasons why you're so overwhelmed. And so overworked is because you don't have good systems. And if you just put a good system in place, you could go home early, if you just put a good system in place, the work will get done, even when you're not directly involved in it. I always say that, you know, organizations rise or fall to the level of their systems. And I also say that when things are working in your school, don't blame the people. And that means not blaming you either. You shouldn't be blaming yourself. It's not the people, it's usually there's a breakdown in the process, there's a system that needs to be put in place. And once you put that system in place, and get it going, you don't worry about it again, you do those three things, you pick the right problem, you identify the leverage points, and then you put a system in place so that you can create a solution that continues long after you thinking about it anymore, then you're not working late, you're not overwhelmed, it doesn't feel like you're carrying everything on your back. Because you put a system in place to let the system do the work for you. That system is is taking advantage of leverage so that everybody works less but gets more out of that system. And that system is solving the right problems. That that's that is the key to ensuring that you are not feeling so overwhelmed if you're feeling overwhelmed if you're feeling overwork if you feeling like you're constantly behind if you feel like plant you're playing a giant game of Whack a Mole and and every single day you walk into work, you don't know what's going to hit you and you never have time to do the work you need to do because you're always putting out fires. If you feeling that way.

Then I want to challenge you to take a step back and try those those three steps in the process. 

Look at all the problems front of you and figure out, do I need to solve all of these problems, be picky about the problems you actually tackle. And instead of trying to outwork the problem by just pouring more work into the problem and throwing more hours at the problem, find the leverage points. And then once you found the leverage points, put a system in place, so that that system helps you solve the problem. Even when you are not actively working on the problem, the system continues that work for you, you do those three things. And you're not going to feel so overwhelmed, you do those three things. And you're going to feel like you're making real progress this year, because you are, because you decided that instead of Whack a Mole, you are going to approach your problems, like a builder. Now, I do want to jump in and say this. If you're feeling that way, and you hear that and that resonates with you, and you're thinking, you know, I really want to learn how to do that, I am actually going to be doing something, I've got something in the works. Can't tell you about it yet, but I have something in the works. That's going to show you how to do that step by step, and is absolutely free. Now, I probably already said too much. But just watch this space, look out for your email, look out in your email, we're going to be announcing something pretty huge happening at the end of the month. It's free. And it's designed to help you do exactly this. And I'm gonna show you how to do it step by step. So just look out in your email for it. If you're not signed up for our emails, then go to school leadership and sign up so that you're getting the emails every single week. That's where we're going to be making the announcement first. And I can't wait, I can't wait for you to see this, it's going to be really cool. So watch this space, stay tuned.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship 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. Inside. 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 than you need to join bill to ship University. Just go to build a ship and get started writing your school success story today. Hey, it's Robyn here. And I want to thank you for listening to today's episode. And if you have a question about today's episode, you just want to keep the conversation going. Did you know that we had a school leadership reimagined Facebook group, all you need to do is go to Facebook, join the school leadership reimagined Facebook group now they're going to be a couple of questions that we asked at the beginning because we want to protect this group and make sure that we don't have any trolls come in and that it really is for people who are principals, assistant principals, district administrators, so make sure you answer those questions or you won't get in but then we can keep the conversation going. Plus we do a lot of great bonus content. I'm in there every single weekday so if you have a question or comment above the episode, let's continue the conversation. 

Join us at the school leadership reimagined Facebook group and I'll talk to you next time.

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