The Miracle of Hope

I live my life with a mindset of hope.  

Hope = Possibility + Faith

Hope is having a vision for the future – a picture in your mind’s eye of what tomorrow can be – with the faith that you can make it happen. Faith, defined as trust or confidence without evidence, is critical for optimistic leaders.  

We are all leaders. When we envision a better future with the faith that we can collectively make that vision a reality, we lead with hope.  

This work is challenging; it isn’t natural. There are days and moments every day when I have negative thoughts and feelings. There are days and moments in every day that I need to be more disciplined in my mindset. Optimistic leadership requires practice; the work demands repetition. The most critical work is difficult; we build these skills over time. It is the slow, daily work that makes us better as leaders.

Do the work.

Modeling Optimism

Optimistic leaders are often criticized for having rose-colored glasses. I’ve worked with people who refer to themselves as realists; they embrace negativity under the guise of just being honest. Realists accept set limits; they seem to embrace the status quo.

I purposefully strive to model optimistic leadership. Some may ask, “Why?” For me, there isn’t an alternative.

Many leaders in our world today lead from a negative space. Some leaders seek to tear down others rather than lift themselves. Some leaders live to lament the current situation, seemingly enjoying the opportunity to suck others into their misery. And yes, misery loves company.

My mindset is my choice – and I choose to be optimistic. I believe that joy cometh in the morning. I have faith that each day is a new opportunity to create the future; each day is filled with possibilities to make a new reality.

Optimistic Leadership is Required

Now, more than ever in recent history, education requires optimistic leaders. Teachers get to go to work every day knowing that they are providing the foundation for our student’s future success. As a school superintendent, I get to come to work every morning knowing that I play a small role in creating a better future.  

As a school community, we get to inspire our students to dream of all the possibilities for their futures. With each dream, our students are creating that mindset of possibilities. 

We will all face obstacles; we will learn to persist. We will inevitably fail often along the way; we learn that failures teach us through experience. When we are optimistic and hopeful, we endure with faith and hope. 

As you go about your work today, strive to be a beacon of optimism. Be the light, the energy for others in the room.

Inspiring Action

Leaders inspire others to reach higher and take action. None of us can harness the possibilities of the future alone; we are always stronger and better together. For our students, it requires families, educators, and the community to prepare our students for all the possibilities for the future.

Leaders don’t create plans for the future. Leaders inspire others to unite, find common ground and build a collective vision. Leaders build consensus, facilitate compromises to complex dilemmas, and inspire others to action.

Be intentional in your actions today – be a facilitator of possibility.

Leading through Possibility

Influential leaders know how much better we can be in the future; they inspire a true sense of possibility. To foster the “possibility of who we can be,” leaders encourage us to envision a limitless future. Exceptional leaders inspire us to imagine collective dreams for a better tomorrow.  

When we envision our short- and long-term future, we cultivate a mindset of possibilities. Our visions create mental roadmaps; the images are mental plans for reaching a goal. Mentally mapping what is possible creates a process to achieve a goal, to make a dream a reality.

You are a leader . . . be intentional in your actions and words. Be purposeful to inspire the possibilities in those with whom you serve.

Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negative energy.

Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negative energy. – Jon Gordon

Here is my New Year’s Wish . . . it’s a hope for all of us. We are going to overcome the negative energy we face with optimism. Our vision and positive energy will be our true north. The magnetism of our actions – not just our words but our actions – will attract others along our journey.

It is easy to be negative. For some, especially with the proliferation of social media and electronic communications, negativism has become their default. Undisciplined behavior predicated on blaming others, complaining about everything, and defending their own position has become their own personal reality. These people suck the energy out of any situation – and often defend their own behavior by defining themselves as “realists or watchdogs” – but we know better.

We know that optimistic people are more successful. Optimistic people overcome barriers because they are more persistent. Researchers at NYU have found that “the brains of optimistic people actually light up differently on a scan than those who are pessimistic when they think about future events.” Positive energy propels us to new success. Negative energy brings progress to a screeching stop.

As you take time to think about the new year, commit to a positive energy and positive vision. Together – in all aspects of our lives – we can make a difference simply through our attitude. Personally and professionally, my goal is to call-out the negative people in my life and in our organization. The behavior we permit is the culture we promote. Let’s put an end to negative energy in our lives. Call it out, banish it from the room, and bring light back into darkness.

Your positive energy and vision – the energy and vision that start with your core values and behavior – must be greater than everyone else’s negative energy. It’s up to all of us!

Resolve to Respond with Skill

None of us can control our emotions. We can only control our reactions to our emotions. – Neil Pasricha, The Happiness Equation 

The start of the new year is often a time for creating resolutions and pursuing opportunities for self-improvement. I have long belonged to a local gym; it is part of my morning routine. Every year I marvel at the first couple of weeks of the new year. The gym is crowded with people fulfilling their resolutions to “get up and exercise every morning.” By mid-January the crowd has started to thin-out and by Valentine’s Day, it is back to the regulars.  

We often resolve to control our emotions. We want to control our stress, our anger, our frustration . . . we strive to change who we are. You can’t change you. You can’t change the triggers and drivers of your inner-core. What you can change is how you respond to the triggers.

Don’t start 2023 by trying to change you. Start 2023 by changing how you respond. Be purposeful, be prepared, for how you will respond to your emotions. Don’t change the emotion, manage the response. We can’t change the external, but we can better manger our internal. Be disciplined . . . do the work.

Intentionally Creating our Next Normal

For two years, our nation has been in critical response mode to the COVID-19 virus. We’ve shut down, masked up, and been vaccinated. Science has evolved, we all adapted and adjusted to fluid health orders and guidance.  

While there are divergent opinions on mitigation strategies, there is a nearly universal desire to return to normal. The current school year has been challenging because everyone had anticipated a return to normal. Just as the school year started, the Delta variant, followed by the Omicron variant, forced us to continue to implement and debate mitigation strategies.

As we look to the future, it is clear that we aren’t “going back” to 2019. Our path forward requires intentional action to build the future we want. The “next normal” will include:

  • Providing extra support for mental health challenges.
  • Adjusting our pacing plans based on student data.
  • Living shared cultural norms that support our community values.

Let’s be proactive and intentional in our actions. If we act with purpose and skill, we can build the environment we desire. We will get a default teaching and learning environment if we do nothing. We get to shape the future and we get to serve our communities. Now is the time for elite, skillful leadership; let’s step up to the challenge.

Recalibrating Public Discussions

We are living and leading in turbulent times. The Covid pandemic has disrupted our lives in incalculable ways. Schools will be working to close the learning gaps created from the virus for a decade; this generation of students will be forever changed because of Covid. In addition, the political and racial angst in our country have sparked divisions in our communities that are unparalleled in recent times. Even in our schools, we experience fear, hate, vitriol, and extremism. 

It’s time for us to recalibrate how we engage in public discussions. The people who email dozens of times per week are part of the problem, not part of the solution. No real problem will be solved in a Facebook group; the common ground isn’t located on a cable news station. There is so much more that unites us than divides us. There are few absolutes in the most intense topics today – there is much room for conversation and discussion. Absolutists – those who want to win at any cost – are the loud minority on both fringes of any debate. Those who fan the flames of hate or who live with paralyzing fear aren’t the peacemakers.

We will recalibrate the discussion by listening to all positions, seeking opportunities for common ground, and creating a safe space for the majority in the middle to communicate. We can’t lead school districts from a place of fear or with a scarcity mentality. We must be intentional in our response to each event, and we must be skilled and focused on our mission.

Writing as Cultivation of Beliefs

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write simply for the sake of writing. For years, dating back to 2016, this Life in Focus blog has provided an outlet to share ideas and beliefs. I first started writing messages to encourage building principals to maintain an instructional focus between Thanksgiving and Winter Break. For some time, I was writing and posting every day. Later, the cadence of the posts settled into once a week. In 2020, over nineteen thousand visitors took the time to read Life in Focus with twenty-six thousand views. 

Like many school leaders across the country, Covid and other politically charged issues have monopolized both my time and energy. Whenever we put our ideas out in public, someone is quick to criticize or attack us with hate. I stopped writing; I was reacting rather than growing. As a public servant, I appreciate the diversity of opinions, and I enjoy smart people who push our team to be better. The climate today seems different – it’s unhealthy and bad for our communities. We must actively build the society we want for our children.

With all of this in mind, we must be undeterred in sharing who we are as leaders. While the Life in Focus blog is a personal journey, it is impossible to separate me from my role as Dublin’s Superintendent. As a leader, writing allows the sharing thoughts, ideas, and values, and creates the time and space to cultivate thinking. Writing is cathartic. 

I am humbled you have taken the time to read this post. I hope you will check in each week, knowing that I don’t profess to have answers or global solutions. My personal and professional goal is to be better today than I was yesterday and to be better tomorrow than I am today. My friend Tim Kight defines ELITE as being the best version of you. If we begin a “journey to elite” by committing to growing and learning every day, we will make a positive difference for others.