The 3 Ps of School Leadership

Prepare | Pause | Prioritize

Executive Coaching and Leadership – the ability to prepare, pause and prioritize

Executive coaching changed my life and my career at the mere age of 25. Barbara Sanderson, Doctor of Psychology, and author of Talk it Out, was the first of many formal and informal coaches influencing my life and career starting back in 1999. For me, coaching has been the continuous concept of looking forward through the windshield, not concentrating so heavily on what’s in the rear-view mirror.

I mention my first coaching opportunity as it would have never happened if it wasn’t for the single most positive influencer, leader, coach, and path designer in my world - Mary Bollinger, former executive leader from Eden Prairie Public Schools in Minnesota.  Mary valued the importance of coaching, she innately saw the potential in humans, and she created amazing amounts of access for many of us to build our own careers while finding peace in our lives.

My passion to coach, seek coaching, excel in ambiguity, and stay open to multiple perspectives started with Mary’s influence to reposition my own thinking – as I most often needed to battle through my own mindset usually defined by expired absolutes. Through her coaching, modeling, and ability to create solutions I learned to be present in every conversation while also delivering on priorities at the highest level. This is also why CESO is my new home as we support others in this work.

1. The Preparation

“There’s no substitution for preparation.”  Mary Bollinger has said this thousands of times to me and others. In our personal life and in our professional worlds we tend to miss on the importance of preparation. How you choose to prepare is completely up to you; however, it is my opinion that without it stress and mental fatigue will overwhelm you which, in turn, causes so many other concerns — most often in your health and relationships.

Preparation starts with creating the place and space to calm the “static in your attic” – the judgements and assumptions going on in your head based on your experience. This is key as we work and partner with other humans. Planning is important; however, if it’s just your plan, good luck. Effective planning involves others to truly understand the impact– not just the intentions of any project or conversation. Creating a list of tasks and checking them off one by one can be important; however, by the time the list is all checked off and the dial hasn’t moved, now what? In addition, how often has a similar set of tasks been accomplished with little to no change in the past?

Preparation is key for an individual, a team, and any organization who seeks to remain viable and relevant while most often not repeating the past – unless the status quo is your desired result. Spending unnecessary energy on chasing meaningless tasks over time starts to create a culture of oscillation (…work from Robert Fritz) and emphasizes the idea that change is impossible. Creating the space for preparation most often will eliminate/reduce the opportunity to chase meaningless tasks, because the people who need to be in the room are in the room.

2. The Pause (…be present)

The pause is also known as the curiosity, the listening, and the ability to ask more questions and make fewer statements. Being present is the desire to really learn about the human next to me. Foundationally, it occurs when we are reminded to not continually impose our own beliefs and values onto another individual. This happens through amazing listening — the greatest leadership and human talent in the world. When I truly listen to another person’s perspective, mine is most often only enriched and enhanced.

The ability to pause has allowed me to slow down the movie playing in my head (more work by Robert Fritz) that is directed by my experience, thoughts, and beliefs. By doing this it truly allows me to be in the moment with most things I do. The pause is critically important in the ability to see in front of you, 3,000 feet to 30,000 feet. Without the pause, most often we find ourselves unprepared to make decisions and will struggle to set priorities.

3. The Priority (and when to make a decision)

The pause and preparation happen at a high level when you discover time is out of your control (sorry if this is new information). It’s when we try to control time that we stop listening, rarely press pause, and prepare in a way that misses the perspective of others.  The ability to set priorities is interfered with the noise around you and the perceived confusion with the inability to make a decision.

For those in a perceived decision-making role, we tend to hear people say, “I need a decision from you now” or “You have to decide.” Over my career this has rarely been the case.  Great decision makers have the ability to pause and ask questions, while gathering enough inputs to reposition the environment to ensure ownership of the choice by those involved instead of making a decision in isolation. There are times when not making a decision is the right decision. Quint Studer (Author, leader, entrepreneur, visionary and mentor from a distance) would describe this work as positioning each employee as “owners” of the organization – truly having ownership of their work.

Inclusivity, curiosity, and sincerity is CESO’s DNA. We get there by pressing pause, being highly prepared and making one another and our clients a priority.


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