Reflection: Leadership Wakes, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Flickr photo by Indi Samarajiva (

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in my district’s Aspiring Administrator’s Academy this school year. The academy provides “an introduction of theory, research, best practice, and personal insight from SCS leadership practitioners” and consists of attending four 90-minute meetings, reading The New Principal’s Fieldbook text, shadowing an assistant principal, and writing a reflective essay. Our district’s director of professional development and leadership leads the sessions. The first meeting was tonight and there were approximately 70 members of the cohort in attendance.

Out of respect to the other members of the cohort, I won’t share details from our discussion other than to say that I really enjoyed hearing and learning from the varied perspectives in the room. The session was facilitated well, and I was challenged to think critically about my own beliefs and attitudes about leadership. I was also challenged to consider the “wake” of my leadership from the standpoint of both my tasks and my relationships. This gave me much to consider, and I’m not certain I’m completely happy with the picture it left me. There are things in my professional past for which I wish I had a mulligan. Alas, one can never go back, can we?

One of the activities was to complete a Leadership Self-Assessment survey. (You can find it in chapter one of Cornerstones of Strong Schools: Practices for Purposeful Leadership.) The survey consisted of 45 statements which I answered based on a 4-point, likert-esque scale. The statements were related to my current behaviors and beliefs as they relate to nine cornerstones of purposeful leadership. (The cornerstone categories are optimizer, affirming, ideals, awareness, there-ness, relationships, communicating, culture, and input.) I tried to take an honest and critical look at myself while completing the survey. I wasn’t really happy with the “final scores,” but achieving a high score wasn’t really the point of this formative self-assessment. Instead, I wanted to identify areas of strength and weakness.

The two areas of strength didn’t surprise me at all. I scored the highest point totals in the relationships and communicating categories. I love people and I have always tried to be intentional in building and maintaining strong ties with people. I believe I am a loyal friend, at least I try to be, and people are amazed at how many of my friends I still have strong friendships with 35 years after we first met. I also think I am an effective communicator. I love both the spoken and written word, and I’m not afraid to honestly express myself (though I do attempt to be kind and tactful). I just like to talk even though it often wears me out.

My two areas of weakness were more unexpected. I scored the lowest in being an optimizer and in being affirming. I’m not completely sure what to think of this, but I don’t want to make excuses. They are areas where I want to improve. I want to work at maintaining a more positive outlook and helping energize those around me. I also need to work on providing more explicit feedback to others and being more intentional about celebrating school success.

I think this process is going to be extremely beneficial to me, but I don’t want it to be a time of just thinking about improving. I want to go ahead and make changes to improve, but I’m not really sure the best way to improve in these two areas. I have been working awhile back on giving more explicit feedback, but I think I dropped the ball. I’m going to take stock of my need to be more affirming, but I need some help on the optimizer category. How does one maintain a more positive outlook? What do you do? What do you do to maintain your own energy levels and how do you energize those around you? I’d love your thoughts and/or suggestions.

2 thoughts on “Reflection: Leadership Wakes, Strengths, and Weaknesses”

  1. Philip,
    A goal to become more optimistic, that sounds tricky! Just a forewarning: my advice is going to sound like a commercial!

    I would wholeheartedly recommend training in Cognitive Coaching (SM). I am in the middle of the training right now, and cannot express enough how much it empowers me to help my colleagues mediate their thinking. I can intentionally elevate their consciousness, craftmanship, efficacy, flexibility, and interdependence just by asking certain types of questions in a conversation. Cognitive Coaching(SM) is all about mediating another person’s thinking–allowing them to come to their own understandings, answers, and ideas. You can learn more here:

    The book you referenced says that the Optimizer Leader builds teacher confidence, and explains that one way this can be done is by leading with questions rather than answers. That is the foundation of Cognitive Coaching (SM). It is about helping people find the answers within themselves and it gives the coach/leader a solid foundation for doing that. (I’ve used the Cognitive Coaching (SM) Planning Conversation with my daughters and my husband as well!!)

    Cognitive Coaching (SM) would also help to build the culture of caring. When a person is being coached in this method, they are being listened to in a deeper way and that makes them feel that what they have to say is valued. I can’t say enough good things about Cognitive Coaching (SM)! (And I am not being compensated in any way for raving about it! It has made my position of Literacy Coach so much better!)

    Blessings in your quest of improved leadership! The thoughtful and reflective personality you have will make it powerful reformation for you!!

    1. Thanks, LeeAnn. I looked at the website and it does look helpful. It actually reminds me of the Santa Cruz method that I was trained on a little over a year ago–some of the research is the same. I liked what I got out of Santa Cruz, but my position last year never really evolved to the point where I got to use my learning enough to gain any mastery. (I’m a learning-by-doing kinda guy.) That said, I’ll keep my eyes out for the opportunity to learn more about cognitive coaching. It looks like the nearest trainings are in Missouri and Kentucky and I’m not certain if they are open to individuals outside the contracting agency. Nevertheless, I’m going to bookmark the site and keep my eye on it. Thanks again for the comment and the help.

      Best regards-

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