Tuesday, December 27, 2016

12 Leadership Lessons From Paul

Paul, my awesome son, recently turned 12 years old! That's right... it has been exactly 12 years since that first time I held him in my arms and now less than one year until he is officially a teenager... UGH! While the attitude and sassiness associated with these teen years is consistently rearing its ugly head, he is still a source of inspiration, joy and fulfillment for me. Paul changed my world in an instant - he defined unconditional love for me and taught me what it feels like to be willing to give your life for someone else. It is hard to believe that this hysterical, strong minded and courageous young man weighed less than 7 lbs at birth. But, here he is, in the middle of seventh grade and not a day goes by when I am not in awe of him. Paul was born with some significant medical issues (wrote about them here) yet he has persevered and stayed positive no matter what was going on around him. He has his own passions and interests, his own circle of friends and his own strong set of beliefs... he thinks memes are the be all and end all, he thinks Snapchat is the best social media platform and he would prefer if school were 3 days a week while the weekend ended up being 5 days long... yes, he is a typical adolescent in so many ways. He is also my mini-me and partner in crime - there is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with Paul!

What Paul Has Taught Me

Aside from the obvious life lessons Paul has taught me, he has also taught me a lot about learning, teaching, the world of education and leadership. While last year I wrote about the 11 things Paul taught me about school, this year I have been thinking about the leadership lessons I have learned from Paul. Even though there are many  lessons - literally dozens - that I have learned from Paul, in honor of his recent birthday, I wanted to share 12 of the leadership lessons that have really resonated with me. You see, in many ways, parenting and leadership are incredibly similar because ultimately our words, actions and decisions (as parents and leaders) will have a direct impact on those around us and that is an awesome responsibility. 

12 Leadership Lessons

1) My students deserve to be treated like my own kids. Since Paul was born, my ultimate goal was to create the school/classroom/district that I would want for Paul; a place that I would be proud to send Paul. It is really simple but so important - if I see my students through the same lens I see my own child, my goals become clear and I am no longer seeing my students as "their" children or "those" children but instead as MY/OUR children.

2) We must be mindful of every word, action and decision because it will impact those around us. What I have come to understand in my current position as an Assistant Superintendent, where I am still new and building trust and relationships, is that intent doesn't always match impact. So, while my intentions may be completely positive, the impact on those around me may actually not be so positive and that could be problematic. Thus before taking any action, making any decisions or saying anything that could impact many, I must consider the outcomes. This is true of every interaction I have with Paul and trust me, I have learned from my many mistakes!

3) Leaders must make time for some fun too! While I want our students to read, write and be informed problem solvers (much like I want Paul to study hard and eat his veggies), there must also be time for movement, fun and socialization. As a leader, I will make sure that activities such as physical education and recess are sacred because our students need those times to move and have some fun. To that end, I have also made sure to carve out some fun time for myself so I could re-energize and while that might involve a good book, some reality TV or joining kids at recess, the end result is clear - leaders need to have some fun too.

4) As a leader, I have to share responsibility as a way to empower those around me. As Paul has gotten older he has pushed (more like pulled away) for more independence and the opportunity to make his own decisions. While his choices aren't always the ones I would have chosen, I recognize that I must give him the space to learn from his mistakes. As an educational leader, I must do the same and consider ways to share responsibility with the other educators in our district, our students and our families. I cannot make decisions in a silo; instead, distributive and collaborative leadership allow me to deliberate ideas, broaden my point of view and make more informed decisions... and hopefully better decisions.

5) In the end, there are times when a decision has to be made by the leader! Even though Paul generally hates being told what to do and when, there are times that his vantage point is limited and thus he relies on his parents to make a more informed decision for him (for example, even though he didn't want to be moved to the honors class a month into the school year, we knew it was best for him and guided him in that direction). This is true for me as an educational leader too because I have a broader and more global perspective and thus decisions often require my vantage point. Although multiple perspectives may be considered, the responsibility of the final decision lies with me and sometimes that is totally fine.

6) As a leader I have to be better at listening than speaking. Yes, strong public speaking (at a faculty meeting, a PD session, at a Board Meeting, etc.) is important, but in the end people need to be heard. Yes, Paul does need my advice and guidance at times but there are other times that my ability to just sit back and listen is more valuable to him than anything I could say. By listening to Paul, I am allowing him the opportunity to process his thoughts aloud and I am learning so much about where he is and what he is feeling. The ability to listen - really hear what others are saying - is crucial in my role as educational leader too because not only do I help others understand that their opinions/perspectives are valuable but I am learning a lot and informing my own perspective. The ability to listen is also the key to building sustainable relationships.

7) Leaders must be responsive, not reactive. There are times when I am stressed or frustrated (or just tired) and Paul says or does something that sets me off and I totally react... in fact, I likely overreact. In  the end though, Paul would benefit a lot more from my responsiveness than my reactiveness. The same is true for my work as an educational leader - our community needs me to be responsive but not reactive. As a responsive leader I respond to the needs of those around me by gathering as much information as possible, by considering all the consequences of my actions and by best meeting the needs of our community - especially our students. 

8) We must value the process more than the product. This is something I have to constantly remind myself of when I am watching Paul do his HW. There are so many times I want to swoop in and make a correction or suggest a different word or strategy but in the end, I know I have to let him go through the learning process because that would be more meaningful than me "fixing" something for him. The same is true for me as an educational leader. I don't look for perfection when I am in schools or classrooms - learning and teaching should be messy, engaging and failure should be an acceptable norm within the process. Learning and teaching is always about the process - not the product because I generally care more about the journey than the destination. 

9) Be transparent because honesty allows everyone around me to understand the "whys" and "hows" of my decisions, actions and words. The most difficult time in my life was coming to terms with my sexuality and although most people discouraged me from sharing my reality with Paul, I knew I had to because I needed to be honest with him. What happened when I told him? He hugged me, told me he loved me and said he understood that I would love a man. Done. No drama, no story to spin and no lie to remember - being transparent with my son was the best decision I ever made. The same is true in my work as an educational leader where being transparent with kids, staff and families has helped me earn trust and build social capital and those can be game changers in leadership. 

10) Lead with heart - it is a simple rule but probably the most important one for me. As a dad Paul knows that no matter what conversation we are having or situation we are dealing with, my love for him is at the core and because of that love, in the end, we will figure it all out. The same is true in my work as a leader - my heart guides many of my decisions because I am driven to do what is in the best interest of our students, teachers and our entire community. Yes, I have to be rationale and logical as a leader but in the end, it is my ability to lead from my heart (with passion and pride) that has helped me be successful in various leadership positions.   

11) Leaders don't let the title or role define them; instead they define it! I knew what people expected of me as a dad because of the way I was raised but in the end, my parenting style was just that - mine. Yes, I relied on the amazing example of my own parents but Paul's needs and personality really dictated my own patterns as a dad. My parenting is forever evolving because some days my son needs a mentor, other days he needs a friend and sometimes he needs direction. During my journey as an educational leader, I knew what people expected from the principal or the assistant superintendent (simply because of the titles) but letting the role define me didn't come naturally; instead, redefining the roles and expectations came easier so that's what happened. Whether I embraced the concept of being a lead learner during my time as a principal or spent more time in classrooms/schools during my short time as a central office administrator, the fact remained that I was redefining the role and making it my own because my professional work had to resonate on a personal level. 

12) I am a dad first and foremost and every decision I make as an educational leader is influenced by my "dad lens." This reality is a simple one but one that took me a while to recognize. You see, I never understood how much my work was influenced by my life until I became a building principal about 11 years ago. Whether I was doing the master schedule during my time as a principal or meeting with a group principals during my time as a assistant superintendent, the decisions I made and words I spoke were shaped by my personal experiences as a father... and so far, that has worked for me.

Yes, Paul has taught me dozens of lessons and although the list could go on, these are the Top 12 leadership lessons I have learned from my most amazing son. Thank you Paul - you inspire me, teach me and make me a better person and educator!


  1. Hard to find the words how much I appreciate this post Tony (mainly because it's hard to think and write with tears in my eyes. Paul is one lucky young man and you are one lucky Dad - and the rest of us are lucky to be privy to your heart, wisdom and dedication to all the Pauls of the world!

  2. Thanks for sharing Tony! This hit home to me, because being a parent has taught me how to be s better Ed leader. My daughters are my best instructors. Treat every child like they were your own and lead with heart and the other 10 lessons all blend in naturally. May 2017 be a wonderful year for you and your family!


  3. A beautiful and thoughtful post, Tony!