System Update: Ready…

By Nathan Boyd, IPLI Mentor and Principal at Navarre Middle School

Last week, I needed to update my computer’s browser to fix bugs and other minor problems that prevented my computer from functioning at full potential. When my computer restarted, I couldn’t help but see the parallels associated with the principal’s role. Oddly enough, it made me think of Coach Bill Lynch, my college football coach. He (and the other coaches) would motivate us with these (at the time corny) gridiron quotes and sayings that, to my surprise, I find myself using several throughout different aspects of my life, both personal and professional.  One of those savings that I find myself repeating to others is, “There is no such thing as staying the same, you’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse.”  His words have never been more accurate and meaningful than right now. I could easily relate this saying to this unprecedented school year that we’ve all experienced as the COVID-19 pandemic will indeed be discussed in history classes around the globe.  Those words that Bill Lynch would repeat day after day weren’t shared so that we could be prepared for the year 2020; his words were meant to be incorporated into our daily lives. As educators, especially as a principal, you should strive to be viewed as an instructional leader while also modeling yourself as one of the lead learners of your team. These qualities have been items I’ve worked toward meeting as a professional standard for quite some time. I’ve been fortunate to surround myself and our children with other educators, teachers, and leaders who believed and desired the same.  As a result, much success has come to the children we were charged to love and grow. Although my (what I call) success recipe has found favor in many school environments, I’ve learned that it might be time to update your system when you find yourself getting comfortable.

As I find myself in a position of great personal and professional fulfillment, it has also presented me with one of the biggest professional challenges to date, the need to update and reinvent myself.  Although I walked into this new role feeling efficacious and prepared to engage in the work, I’ve been compelled to reinvent myself and learn what it means to be an adaptive leader. There are several tools available for leaders to use; however, I’ve found the most impactful to best prepare me for children and teachers is John Maxwell’s book, 5 Levels of Leadership.

This book is a jackpot, packed full of valuable tools to help all leaders earn their titles and people’s trust. John Maxwell’s message is clear; leadership is more than a position, and people will not follow solely based on a title.  To become more than a boss, principals must develop themselves beyond using their status and title to get people to follow.  Progress is temporary with leaders who never move past this entry-level stage.  Culture remains unchanged, and people will revert to their old comfortable actions and practices once the entry-level leader has left.  John Maxwell has broken down the steps of authentic leadership into five distinct levels that are transferable to education, among other noteworthy professions.  Those five levels of leadership are:

  1. Position
  2. Permission
  3. Production
  4. People Development
  5. Pinnacle

This book has caused me to undergo a tremendous amount of reflection. I’ve learned that each new challenge, and in my case a new environment with new people, can restart your journey towards a level five leader back at level one (position).  Even with prior success, a change in position, organization, or school does not allow you to remain at the same level.  Level five leadership is what we should all strive to attain, not only for ourselves but for the children who we are charged with educating.  People follow a level five leader because of who they are and what they ultimately represent.  However, the road to a level five leadership can only happen if you take the time to develop and master each stage prior; you can’t skip a stage in this equation. During this journey toward being considered a level 5 leader, you do not trade one level for another; they are designed to build upon each other. You can not move to the next stage before mastering the previous one. A level five leader is considered a multiplier; consequently, as you grow, so do the people you lead. Reaching our full potential can only be achieved when we’ve set an environment that allows others to do the same. A level five leader (principal) understands they can not climb levels alone; we must accept people wherever they are to help them move with us; that is how school communities get better. They must collectively get better together!  

I’ve learned that a level five leader makes room for others at the top and has a desire to help others learn, so they are eventually succeeded by those who can maintain the improvement cycle that began. I am a little over a year in my new school and have studied each of John Maxwell’s levels and the behaviors associated with each level.  Coach Lynch’s saying, “There is no such thing as staying the same, you’re either getting better or getting worse,” has helped me lean into honest reflection as I read this book and helped maintain a desire always to want to learn and get better. I recommend every principal who desires to provide their children with the best opportunities for success (both new and seasoned) to read John Maxwell’s book, The Five Levels of Leadership.  Principals must ensure you provide time for reflection, time to update, and system checks our beliefs and practices so that we too can function at our optimal ability.