Archive for November 2016

How do you handle rebuke?

Hello, my name is Jeff, and I am a people-pleasing perfectionist. There, I’ve admitted it. They say that the first step is to admit you have a problem, so I am acknowledging that I do. I am hampered by the combination of fearing conflict, while struggling to admit my mistakes. This tendency results in me doing everything I can to avoid making mistakes in front of others, and having a very difficult time accepting my mistakes when I do make them (and as much as I have tried to deny it over the years, I do make them – and often). For much of my life, this tendency restricted my ability to learn and grow.

However, as I have matured and gained experience, I have come to see this in myself, and have recognized its detriment to my leadership development. I have learned the value (and importance) of being teachable, and the problem with not being willing to accept my failings. The result has been that I have learned to listen to rebukes, criticisms, and corrections in order to grow and get better.

Two different experiences provide the bookends that illustrate this lesson in my life. The first took place over fifteen years ago, in my initial experience as the headmaster of Christian school. I was still very shackled by my people-pleasing perfectionism, so I was working tirelessly to do everything right, and fearing the thought of making mistakes or facing conflict. So when I was called into a meeting with the chairman of the board as a result of some parent complaints, I was dreading the confrontation. I blamed the chairman and the parents, and I looked for every possible way to justify my own actions. But then, as I was talking to my father before the meeting, he encouraged me to look beyond the messenger, and to choose to look for what I needed to learn in order to get better. This was the beginning of my steps to learn how to accept criticism for my own betterment.

The second experience took place in the last year, as I reached the halfway point of my first year as the new headmaster of a different Christian school. It was time for my initial performance evaluation from the board of directors, and they had taken time to survey a representative group of faculty, parents, and students. As they prepared to go over the evaluation with me, I still had some amount of internal anxiety, because of my temperament and personality; however, I also had learned how to welcome criticism as valuable for my growth. Therefore, when they went over both the areas of strength and of growth, I was able to see them in truth, and to receive them for what they were: counsel that was intended to help me be the best leader I could be for this school, delivered with honesty and out of a desire to help me succeed.

There are a couple of verses in book of Proverbs that I have come across recently that have reminded me of this particular truth:


  • Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool.” Proverbs 17:10
  • “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.” Proverbs 15:31


These two verses together point out the value of learning from correction, and how this characteristic is reflective of a truly wise person. Interestingly, they show that correction can come either in intentional forms – rebuke or criticism (whether intended to be constructive or not) from others – or unintentional forms – the circumstantial failures and crashes that happen in life (whether anticipated or not). Regardless of how it comes, a wise person will recognize it for what it is: an opportunity to learn and grow.

This is what I had come to in the intervening years since that first experience as a headmaster. Now, years later, as I faced the prospect of my first performance review in a new headmaster role, I had these verses in mind and was able to receive them as a wise man would. I knew that I needed to do this intentionally in order to grow, so now I was able to welcome it instead of dread it. The result was that I was able to listen, receive correction, and become a better leader for my school, and at the same time, the board’s confidence in me also grew as a result of my teachability.

Do you want to be considered a wise man or woman? Learn to embrace correction, accepting its value for your leadership development. Then, if you listen, you will learn.



Week of November 28, 2016

Your Family Is More Important than Your Job

It’s the week of Thanksgiving.  For many of us, that means that we will get to gather with family and friends and give thanks for what is most important in our lives:  those same people with whom we are celebrating.  For me, there have been at least two major events in the last six months besides Thanksgiving that have reminded me of this – the loss of my father in May, and the wedding of my daughter in October.  As I reminisced about the gratitude I feel for the influence my father had in my life and for the joyous experience of having participated in my daughter’s moment of marriage, I was also reminded of a life lesson a shared a couple of years ago.  It was an important lesson for me when I first really “got it,” and it also seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people, so it seemed appropriate to share it during this week that focuses on the value of family.  It is the lesson that your family is more important than your job.

This statement – “your family is more important than your job” – is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my leadership development.  So important, in fact, that over the years it has been one of the more frequent statements that I have shared with others in conversations about job decisions, especially when they have come to me struggling over what the best decision is for their family.  The lesson initially came home to me shortly after I had stepped into my first senior leadership role.

I had been working in an organization where I had been very effective, and had played an important role in helping to bring about valuable and significant change.  It seemed that I had been able to have positive influence on the organization and on many people within and connected to the organization.  Looking back, I can see that my ego was being fed, and I was becoming prideful in my perspective.  In the development of my personal work ethic, I had been taught to work in such a way that I would become more important to the organization than the organization was to me, but in my pride, this grew into the sentiment that I was invaluable to the company.  I began to believe that if I were to ever leave, the organization would suffer and would take a noticeable step backward.

And then it happened.  I was given an opportunity to become the leader of another organization, one that was experiencing struggle and decline.  Although I had anxiety about whether or not I was prepared or capable, and about the unknown of this new experience, I was also excited, and anticipating the change to again be an agent of change.  My family was very supportive and excited along with me, encouraged me in this opportunity, and embraced the prospect of this new experience.  So, we loaded a moving truck, packed up our family, and moved a thousand miles away to a new home and a new life.

As I left the previous company, I secretly believed that my loss would hurt, and even had the arrogance to think that it would require two people to replace all that I was doing.  I imagined in my mind that I would soon be hearing about how much they missed me, and how much they realized I had meant to them.  But then, the unthinkable happened – they moved on without me!  They hired someone else with his own set of skills and passion, they adjusted, and they continued to move forward.  Meanwhile, I was struggling to win the support and trust of a skeptical group of people who had no idea what I had accomplished or what I could do.

It was then that I began to realize I was not irreplaceable.  I figured out that, other than in my own mind, none of my accomplishments came with me.  Don’t get me wrong here – the experience came with me, which was very valuable in helping me to do the job well.  But this new group of people didn’t know and didn’t care what I had done someplace else.  And all of a sudden, the only thing I had left to support and encourage me was my family.  I realized that I had actually been pouring my energies into accomplishment at work at the expense of my family.   I also realized that at any time I could lose or leave that job, but if that happened and I lost everything that came with my work (including recognition and accomplishment), I would still have my family.  Like switching on a light, I suddenly understood that my family was more important than my job.  Life moves on, jobs and careers change, and although I may have some influence and leave behind an impact, just about he only thing that goes with me moving forward is my family.  So if my job is costing me my family, the job needs to go before my family does.

I believe wholeheartedly that this is one of the most important lessons you could learn.  It is a “meaning and contentment of life” type of statement. No one is irreplaceable.  When you leave an organization or a job, remember that they will move on without you, but your family will be the one thing goes with you.  Never forget that your family is more important than your job.

Week of November 21, 2016

3 questions to ask for shifting the monkey

Do you struggle with shifting the monkey, taking on responsibilities, obligations, and problems that don’t belong to you?  According to Todd Whitaker in his book, Shifting the Monkey, you need to first identify the monkey by asking 3 questions:  where is the monkey, where should it be, and how do I shift it where it belongs?  So I wonder, how successful are you at “shifting the monkey”?  Share your stories in the comment section below.

“Shifting the Monkey” by Todd Whitaker


shifting-the-monkey-whitaker-todd-coverMy habit is to alternate between reading books on leadership (mostly for my own personal leadership growth) and books on education and learning (mostly for my professional growth in my role as a school administrator). And since this blog is specifically about leadership, not education, I generally only share my thoughts on the leadership books. However, I recently read a book that was in the “education” category, written by a professor of education at Indiana State University, that I found to be an excellent book for leaders in any profession.   This book, by Todd Whitaker, was called Shifting the Monkey: The art of protecting good people from liars, criers, and other slackers.


Whitaker defines “monkeys” as the responsibilities, obligations, and problems that everyone carries and deals with every day, but that often get shifted to someone else. It’s the coworker who shirks his duty, leaving someone else to pick up the slack; the boss who makes a bad decision and passes the blame on to someone else; or the customer who has a bad reaction in the store and creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone else within earshot. The problem is that these people are frequently allowed to shift their monkey on to someone else, making life more difficult for others. Because of our frustration, we pick up the slack from our coworker. Because it’s our boss, we cover for the bad decision or are too afraid to speak up. Because it’s in a public place, we don’t excuse ourselves from the uncomfortable situation in the store. Whitaker’s solution to these monkeys is a simple, two-fold process: identify the monkey, and shift the monkey.


To identify the monkey, Whitaker says, you need to ask 3 questions:

  1. Where is the monkey?
  2. Where should the monkey be?
  3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

Then, in shifting the monkey back to its proper place, he says that you must do 3 things:

  1. Treat everyone well.
  2. Make decisions based on your best people.
  3. Protect your good people first.


This was a relatively simple and short book, but one that I found to be very practical. Almost immediately upon reading it, I began to notice when someone was (consciously or unconsciously) trying to shift their monkey to me. I found myself saying (to myself), “That’s not my monkey,” and consciously refusing to take on responsibilities or problems that were not mine, and keeping them where they belonged. This was actually quite stress-relieving, and ultimately helped my to keep my focus where it needed to be – on my responsibilities – while helping me to better redirect others to deal with their own monkeys.


For this reason, this is an “education” book that I would recommend to any leader!