From Terry Heick and the Bad Ass Teachers Association: “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching!” also Applies to Positive Leadership!

Terry Heick’s insightful comments entitled “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching,” posted on the Facebook page of the Bad Ass Teachers’ Association, could have just as easily been written for a course in “Positive Leadership,” which, not coincidentally, could be offered to principals and other administrators.  

Prioritize—and then prioritize again. Positive Leaders relentlessly remind their people and themselves of the essential purpose of the organization and each individual’s job. It is so easy, in the heat of the challenges we face, to be diverted by secondary agenda’s and objectives.

 It’s not your classroom.   Organizations belong to the people and the customers they exist to serve and one of the biggest mistakes managers and supervisors make is to forget that their primary purpose, their over-riding priority, is to help their people and organizations succeed by doing the best job of which they are capable. Teachers and leaders need to remind themselves, often, that it is not about “me.”  

Students won’t always remember the content, but many will never forget how you made them feel. The most important component of human motivation is to make people feel important and it is amazing how forgiving employees can be when they know that the mistakes their leaders make were made within the context of helping them learn how to be successful. It is equally amazing how the level of trust that we earn is based almost totally by the way we interact with people rather than the things we say. It is also amazing how much the people of an organization are willing to give of themselves, when they know their welfare and best interests are always at the top of their leader’s list of priorities.

Get Cozy with the school custodians, secretary, librarian. One of the core principles of positive leadership is that every job well done adds value to the organization and its customers and also adds beauty to the world. Paying positive attention to people who support production and sales staff always pays dividends at crunch time when you need people to step up with their best efforts.

Longer hours isn’t sustainable. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to how leaders and teachers allocate their time if for no other reason than it allows us to refresh ourselves and to “sharpen our saw” as Stephen Covey would say.

Student behavior is a product. In organizations as well as classrooms, how people conduct themselves, whether they have positive or negative attitudes, how much they are willing to give of themselves, and their commitment to their purpose is all a product of the kind of organization and environment the leader or teacher creates and sustains. It is also a product of how well they understand the process of success and whether they think of themselves as winners, as being a part of something special. Remember how you felt when in the classroom of one of your favorite teachers.  

Don’t get sucked in to doing too much outside of your class.  Activities that are separate and apart from our purpose can provide enrichment that refreshes and re-enthuses us or it can be an irritant that creates friction, and saps our energy. The process of getting sucked into something that is counterproductive is just one example of being distracted from one’s purpose and being drawn to secondary agendas. Pick and choose, carefully, the extra activities in which to become involved.

 Help other teachers. Everyone in an organization knows and respects the people to whom they can turn for help and support. It’s central to the adage that the more we give of ourselves the more we receive in return and this is powerful where ever people come together including classrooms and organizations.  

Reaching students emotionally matters. A lot. Ultimately our joy in life is a function of the quality of our relationship with other people. The more we understand that people are more important than things and that connecting with another person on an emotional level is the key to our sense of self and theirs, the more control each of us will have over the outcomes in our lives.

Literacy is everything for academic performance. Whether in business, in school, or in our personal lives it is our ability to read and understand and also our ability to communicate what we observe, think, and feel effectively that determine our power to create joy and meaning in our lives, and to seize the opportunities that present themselves to us.


The only thing I would change in this list of things we might wish we knew at the outset of any endeavor, whether as a leader, as a teacher, or as a friend is to:

“beware of the naysayers who are so immersed in bitterness and resentment that they find it necessary to drag us down to their level rather than elevate themselves up to ours”

The common theme through all of these items has to do with the quality of the relationships we are able to create and sustain. Ultimately, the value of our lives is measured against the quality of our relationships with other people.  So important is this central theme “that relationships are central to what we do” that I advocate that the entire educational process be re-structured in such a way that it supports a teacher’s ability to build and sustain close, personal relationships with their students, with the parents of their students, and with the other members of their teaching teams.

Build Strength and Independence Not Weakness and Dependence!

Whenever I give positive leadership seminars there are a number of recurring questions. One of the most common is “How do I get my people to accept responsibility for getting things done when I can’t be there to watch over them?” I love this question because its answer addresses some of the most common mistakes of managers and supervisors, irrespective of venue.

The answer to this seemingly inevitable questions is, simply, “If you want people to accept responsibility when you are away, teach them to accept responsibility when you are there.”

Many leaders are surprised to learn that they create dependencies as a result of their leadership approach. Our objective as leaders should always be to develop a staff of men and women who are strong and independent rather than weak and dependent. One of the ways to accomplish this objective is to teach and coach rather than to tell and do.

When issues arise in the midst of the game, when the pressure of time is upon us, it is easy for leaders to step in and solve problems and take action. In doing this we have, indeed, resolved the issue but we have, unwittingly, taught the lesson that only managers and supervisors cans solve problems, resolve issues, take action, and make things happen. The result, of course, is that the next time an issue arises, people stop and wait for their manager or supervisor to swoop in with a solution.

What positive leaders do, on the other hand, is teach their people how to solve problems and take action on their own. This can be accomplished only if we have created an environment in which people are expected to take initiative and in which there are minimal fears of making mistakes.

This approach is just another facet of delegating to people. Remember that the absolute best leaders are nearly invisible because they are seldom required to get involved in routine operational problem-solving. This is also one of the reasons why the best leaders are the most creative and innovative. They spend their time looking for opportunities to expand the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

The best leaders also spend significant chunks of their time giving support and feedback to their people. They are committed to the ongoing development of each of their employees. It is amazing how easy it becomes for people to respond positively to constructive feedback and to rise to ever-increasing expectations when they have come to view their supervisor as a coach and mentor rather than as a critic and task master. When people have also been given opportunities to learn new skills, gain new experiences, and are invited to participate routinely in the innovation process, true magic begins to happen.

Powerful positive leaders not only preside over a team of people who accept responsibility on their own but they also have men and women who look relentlessly for continuous improvement opportunities without being asked or prompted. Such expectations and the resulting behavior have become internalized as part of the culture.

One of the other managerial/supervisory behaviors that contribute to creating dependencies is the preservation of one’s own stature as the most skilled, knowledgeable, and competent person in the department.

Most supervisors are promoted, after all, on the basis of their technical competency. As soon as you are appointed to a leadership role, however, the supervisor’s purpose shifts. As a leader, our job is to help each of our people become the most knowledgeable, competent, and productive people of which they are capable. When some of those individual’s have surpassed the competency of their supervisors, then leadership excellence has been achieved.

Remember that, as a leader, your job is not to demonstrate how great you are rather it is to teach your people how great they can be.