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Strategies and Stories to Lead and Succeed

Create Your Own Wristband

On January 8, 1985 I was in the expectant father’s waiting room at Lutheran General Hospital, Chicago,  listening to, not watching, the television.  The news story of the day was Elvis Presley’s 50th birthday and his legacy.  I was pacing the floor and anxiously awaiting the birth of our third child.  Suddenly, in the room next door, I overheard one of the doctors say, “Oh, you have two boys and now you have another one.”  Having two sons already my thoughts immediately changed from the hopes of a “daddy’s girl” to the beginning of a basketball dynasty.  Well, as it turned out, the comment was for the guy next to me.  Later on when the doctor told me that I was the proud father of a newborn girl.  That was, without question, one of the happiest moments in my life.  I remember the challenge of trying to find “her” covered in a pink blanket in the nursery.  The color ruled out about half of the competition.  I then found myself squinting to find “her” last name on a card. With it being the first day of her life, her last name would be the only visible identifying factor. 

Most of us come into this world with a hospital bracelet, a blue or pink blanket, a knitted cap and a last name.  With the probable exception of our DNA, our identity is a true “tabula rasa” which, as each minute passes, will begin to take shape, form and substance.  Pretty soon our parents will bestow upon us a first name (by the way we chose Stephanie), and, perhaps, a middle name and more. Eventually we will be issued a hospital birth certificate with our very own distinct footprint because our unique fingerprint is not ready for processing yet.   There will be many other identifiable characteristics unique to only us starting with items such as a government issued social security card with our own number.  Then there will be other idiosyncratic markings as we get older like student issued ID cards, a driver’s license and perhaps even a passport.  In addition you have your own voice identification pattern, retina for scanning and dental records. In our technology driven global society you also acquire your very own email address and all those personalized passwords that we have to remember.  In short, you, become you and, and as I told my daughter, there is only one you.

As a classroom teacher we learn the value and importance of routines.  Children come to know us and what to expect from us.  This is a valuable teaching skill.  A similar pattern holds true for you as a colleague.   As a school leader the people you work with come to learn who you are, what makes you tick, what you stand for, how you will act and react and what you expect with and from them.   For the most part you become credible and predictable.  As a school leader the people with whom you work should know you so well that they can act in your stead.  I am not saying they can be you, as we know that is not possible, but they can learn to think as you would think, act as you would act, react as you would react and follow through on items as you would.  The following is a case in point.

Mike was my district’s facility manager.  He was a man of great intelligence and work ethic, who loved to read poetry to the younger children or teach astronomy to the older ones.  But, alas, he was the facility manager who, on occasion, did need a gentle reminder.  After working with me for a year, he realized that written reports better be accurate in nature and near perfect utilizing all the correct grammar conventions and good word choice.  After experiencing a couple marked up reports, Mike’s work was as if I wrote it (if not better!).  He knew exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it and when it needed to be completed.   I was going to name this tip, “Be Like Mike,” but thought it might be too confusing with Michael Jordan. 

Like it or not every day that the sun sets finds you have added to your own wristband for others to wear.  Livestrong, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), mother’s bracelets, POW (Prisoner of War) bracelets and others may get you comments, questions and/or great discussions, but the identity bracelet you create with your thinking, actions, words and deeds, albeit never worn, will be the one your colleagues remember and take to the bank.  Unlike the horrors associated with identity theft, you want “identity theft” to occur here.  Yes, you want people to understand you and be able to act like you.  I am not saying become a “mini-me” here, but I am saying that your colleagues should learn to value and respect you and think and act in a similar manner.  In short, your bracelet,
WW (Your first initial here) D is there for everyone in your district to wear. Imitating you will either be the highest form of flattery or the lowest form of leader compliance.   The only question remaining is what will your bracelet stand for?

Excerpted and adapted with permission from 99 Ways to Lead and Succeed: Strategies for School Leaders, Eye on Education, 2009.