“Hey Leader, What’s in your Wallet?”: What is on your Commitment card?

What is on your Commitment card?


One wonderful summer day, I was out and about with my five year old son when he decided he was hungry. We decided on a local restaurant and settled down for a meal. As customary , we were greeted ,seated, and then greeted by our server. Our server greeted us with a smile , introduced herself , asked for our drink order and then left to fill the order. However, before she left she place a small business card on our table. I thought the card was a coupon on something to do with the menu. However, when I picked it up, my mind was blown. On the card in print were four commitments that the server was making to me, the customer.  Not only were the commitments printed but simply and clearly defined:


Reliable- I am dependable and you can count on me

Responsive-I act quickly to respond to your needs

Knowledgeable- I can explain and recommend menu items

100%- Is what I will give you to ensure  your *Restaurant’s name* experience  is pleasurable

And at the end of the commitments was this phrase “ If for some reason, I did not meet my commitment to you, please let me know.”

This was different and I was impressed. Immediately I thought what if school leaders or teachers did this? How powerful it would be if as you hand out your business card to parents, students and stakeholders that they not only received your contact information but your leadership commitments and guarantees.

As an educational leader, you must be committed …accepting the position is not enough.  You must commit to the work, to the mission, to the students, the staff and the community. This is educational leadership 101. It is basic. Every leader and aspiring leader should know this.  However, as the leader, can you  and do you actually define and put into words your core commitments?

 Just as in the example above, can your commitments be summarized and clearly stated. What can teachers, students, and your community expect from you every time you step in your building. What can they expect every time they engage with you and communicate with you? What are your leadership guarantees? As a leader, you are a brand just like Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds or Chick fila. When you walk into the door of any franchise or store with a brand, you know what to expect. How do you define your leadership brand and leadership experience? What can the people who follow you or engage with you expect?

Commitments hold you accountable and to a higher standard. They are completely essential to the work that we do as leaders. They serve as part of our compass which guides our actions, decisions, and directions.  However, how often do we say them aloud or put them out in world for others to see? Is it because we are afraid that once we say them or publicize them, others may hold us accountable for them? Accountability is a part of leadership.  Holding yourself accountable and allowing others to hold you accountable can boost your leadership into the next level. It also allows you to clarify and narrow your focus because you cannot do everything but there are some things that you can do very well. As a leader you just must ask yourself, “What is most important to me and what do I want to be my brand of leadership? “

When you give someone your business card, you give them your job location, phone number and ways to reach you. Why not give them what matters the most about you?

I think I am ordering new business cards.


As a leader:

What are your Leadership commitments?

 What do you guarantee to those you serve?

What can people expect from you every situation, every day, & every time?

Do your leadership commitments extend to your students as well?

“Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.”

Leader How does your Garden Grow? Series finale

 “Sometimes it’s not the seeds or the plants… it’s the soil.” Part 5 of 5. 

Sometimes you find that despite your best efforts, your garden is not growing. You have planted good seeds. You have watered and nurtured them, but the plants are not growing.   As the leader of organization, you can find despite your efforts your organization is not growing, living up to its potential or is just stagnate. You have tried research-based practices, organizational strategies, great resources and have the best people in place but you are not seeing any growth or positive yields. Then you realize something profound. Sometimes the problem is not the seeds or the plants…the problem is the soil!

It is not what you’re are planting, it’s what you are planting them in. All dirt is not the same. All soil is not the same.   Soil can sometimes lack key nutrients that plants need to grow. This can be based on the region or the location. Moreover it can be based upon what was planted in the soil before. Certain types of plants or gardens can leave soil depleted.  Farmers rotate crops on certain lands so that it gives the soil a chance to recover. Likewise, the culture of your organization can be depleted. The culture of your organization can not be ready or can not be optimal to support or achieve growth.  The previous administration could have created a toxic work environment, or your current organization goals were too ambitious and over worked the soil and burned out the culture.  Whatever the case, as the lead gardener when you realize that the soil is depleted or not nurturing for your garden, you must fix it.  The soil is important because it nurtures your plants.  The culture provides the inspiration for your organization. It is what connects all the people in your school community.  It keeps your organization going day in and day out. It brings out the best in everyone and allows every to be their very best.

How do you fix the soil? This is an important question to answer. Dirt is dirt, right?  How do you fix the ground? A school is a school, right? The answer of course is no it is not. Every school is different, and every school culture is different.

When a gardener realizes that their soil is lacking, they find ways to nurture the soil. They add the nutrients to the soil.  They bring in fresh soil(ideas) and mix it into the depleted soil.  They are careful which plants they plant and when they plant them. Some gardeners even bring in outside help(shout out to all cooperative extension agents) to analyze their soil so that they can find exactly what it needs and what it is lacking.  Leaders in turn must look at the culture of their organization and find ways to fix and adjust it.  If you want to have a certain type of achievement or to meet certain goals, the culture is important to the seeds that you want to plant. By analyzing your soil can figure out exactly what is wrong with it and what the plants need to thrive. A master gardener will spend time learning. A leader must become a student of their organization. Perhaps morale is low in your organization. Maybe the work load is too much for members or maybe the people are willing but do not have the skills to do the work. In education, your school may not have the community support or stake holder buy in that your school needs. There could be a lack of resources in your school for your teachers and students. Maybe the soil of the school does not give or show enough gratitude and appreciation … after all it takes a lot of effort to push through dirt and mud to bloom.

Building relationships are important for the leader so that they can understand what the soil needs to nurture staff growth.  Through good relationships a better understanding of the history of the culture or your school can help you gain valuable information into why the culture is how it is and has developed.

Just like a master gardener knows that some plants are more resilient than other plants and thrive in the soil when other plants have not, a leader will know that there are staff member who have thrive when others have not. There are always teachers and staff who have remained with a school through good times, bad times, abundant times, lean times, good leadership and bad leadership. A good leader will take time to build relationships with them to listen and better understand the culture of the school …the good, the bad, and what is needed. Leadership is a people business. You win with people. You can not win without people and you cannot win consistently if you do not know your people.

Leaders need to realize that major culture shifts can take time. the leader must plant carefully and be realistically of what they plant. You don’t grow Oranges in Maine (at least not without massive effort and resources). It can take a while to build the perfect soil …sometimes through trial and error. However, you can find ways to be creative within the culture you have now …slowly making changes adding in additives here and a boost to the soil there.  Leaders can plant small ideas with big yields or easy wins that can boost confidence and morale. Leaders can sprinkle in small rewards and recognitions to boost the growth. Leaders can build relationships with their staff so they can better support them and grow a supportive culture.

Everybody can afford a little Miracle grow every now and then!

As leader:

  • Do you have good soil to nurture your planted seeds?
  • What are the needs in your organization’s culture that need to be addressed?
  • In what practical ways can you affect or address your culture to make it better for students? For teachers?  For parents?
  • What relationships do you have with people in your building? What do you know about them professionally and personally?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.

“Perennials or Annuals” : Leader How does your Garden Grow? Part 4 of 5

Leader How does your Garden Grow?

 “Perennials or Annuals” Part 4 of 5

If you have ever gone to the local nursery with the intent to plant buy plants or if you have ever searched a plant website for ideas, you have come across this sign “Perennials or Annuals”. ( I always have to remind myself which is which!)  One type of plant returns every season once planted and the other must be replanted each year.  You must make the decision on which type of seeds or plants you want and be aware of which type of plants that you have in your garden. 

Once planted and nurtured, a perennial plant will automatically bloom each year and come back every year. A Perennial plant becomes a permanent part of the garden.  It becomes part of the culture of your garden. In every organization there are some things whether habits, ideas, procedures or practices that you want to be automatic and you want it to be a permanent part of your garden(organization) and the way and how you conduct business.  These types of things may be your customer service, your procedures for addressing issues, the quality of service you provide, the things which separate you from your competitors or industry.  In education there are somethings that you may want to be a part of the culture of your school: staff commitments, quality of work, positive relationships and instructional practices or standards.  Also, as educational leader, there are people, positions that you want to bloom every year and return to your garden.

Annual plants have a season and then must be planted again the next year. This is not bad because everything has a season. It always gives you the opportunity to plan better, get different plants, move plants around or to get more durable types of plants. In organizations, there are things which are only for one season and are temporary. There may be quotas to be met, company priorities may shift, the needs of your stakeholders may change, you may have to address a specific need or unexpected situation. In education, we may need to address certain issues for a season: student discipline issues, attendance issues, achievement data issues, staff or faculty issues.  However, once those issues are resolved or results are achieved, the issue no longer needs to be addressed.  Also, unfortunately in education, this can also mean education fads or trials that we use in attempt to boost achievement but later realize they do not work or not good for students, so we let them go after a season.  As a leader is may also mean people, committees, positions or task force that were brought into the organization for a season but may only be needed for a season.

In your garden:

  • Do you have “annuals” or “perennials” in organization?
  • Can you identify which plants are which?
  • Do you need more of one or the other?
  • What is your plan to re plant your “perennials” each year?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.

Don’t Waste Time Watering Rocks!

Leader How does your Garden Grow?

 “Don’t waste time watering  the Rocks.” Part 3 of 5

You have to make sure to spend your energy on the right things.

Growing a garden is hard work.  Planting a garden is hard work. Setting the environment for maximum growth is hard work.  Maintaining the garden is hard work.  Leading an organization, setting a direction and vision for an organization, doing the work so that an organization can grow is all hard work. You do not have time to waste of tasks which do not yield effort and are a waste of effort.  Do not waste time watering the rocks! Leaders do not have time to waste watering rocks.

Rocks represent those things in your organization which are firm in the culture of the organization. It can be procedures, values, traditions, or even be people. “We have always done it this way.” There are people in organizations who do not like change. There are people who will not change. There are people “who are who they are” and will not bloom into anything different. In organizations there are values and beliefs that are old as the organization and will not change. Old ideas can be rocks as well. Some leaders spend too much of their time on things that will not and do not change. Do not waste time watering rocks.

Rocks do not grow. If the purpose of your efforts is to make things in your garden grow, then watering rocks is a waste of your time, efforts and resources.  Rocks do not grow.  They can be polished, sanded, buffed, or even painted but watering a rock will not make it grow… no matter how much you wish it to do so. Stop watering rocks!!Water represents your energy and resources. Using them in such a way and wishing for an impossible outcome is not only exhausting, but frustrating, and futile.

Instead spend your time watering those things in your garden that will grow, sprout and bloom as the results of your efforts and investments. There are people in your organization who have great potential to grow and be better. New employees, new teachers, talented team members, and people with hidden potential.  As a leader you have the responsible to nurture those who follow you and are in your care. This will make your organization better and the best version of itself

Rocks can be removed. If a rock is in the way of the garden’s growth, rocks can be moved to a different part of the garden or can be removed all together from the garden. Rocks can be repurposed and add to the landscaping plan and can add contrast. People can be transferred, teams can be shuffled, goals can be changed, duties can be reassigned, and mission & visions can be reworked.  This may make your garden better more functional. However, removing some rocks can leave huge holes which must be filled with new soil or plants. However, this must be part of the garden plan.  Rocks can be incorporated into your plan. Core values which are important to your organization should be part of your plan. They may just need to be place in different contexts.

Sometimes they are not worth removing. Sometimes its best just to let the rocks stay and lie where they are. Rocks can be small or huge. Rocks can be buried deep into the ground and can be very heavy making them very difficult to move and a waste of resources to attempt to move them. You can spend countless hours, resources and man power only to discover it will not be moved. Sometimes you have to evaluate whether or not the removing the rock is worse than just letting it remain and focusing on the garden and the new growth.

If you focus on your new growth and plants which grow, rocks can be a covered up with new growth when plants are in full bloom. The rocks can remain, but you shift the focus from them to the rest of the garden’s fresh blooms and growth. As the gardener, you shift your efforts to changing the focus in your garden.

Everything in your garden can have purpose if you account for it in your plan. However, you must understand its purpose and function. As the gardener it is your job to set the purpose for your garden. It is also important that the gardener sets what the focus should be and where you spend your most valuable resource which is time. Time is precious. Energy is limited. Change is difficult. Do not waste your time watering the rocks. Spend your time watering the plants that will grow. You must figure out something else to do with the rocks. Because rocks don’t grow.

As a leader:

  • What rocks are you watering?
  • What types of rocks have you noticed in your garden?
  • Do your rocks have the right purpose in your garden?
  • What is your plan for your rocks?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.

“Leader How does your Garden Grow?: It’s more than just planting seeds!”

 “It’s more than just planting Seeds”  Part 2 of 5

As leader it is your job to influence your environment and organization for maximum growth for all stake holders.  This requires skills and often finesse.  You become the lead Gardner for your organization, school or group. If it was just as simple as planting seeds and then walking away everyone would have a green thumb and be an excellent gardener and all schools and organizations would thrive and grow, prosper and achieve. However, to be a gardener that transforms their organization and gets the most growth from its stakeholders, a leader has to put in constant and consistent work. 

The Gardener must have a Plan. Before you plant or do anything, the gardener must have a vision of what type of garden they want and what is its purpose. What are you trying to grow? Is it a food garden to provide food? Is it a flower garden to provide beauty? Is it a pollinator garden to attract insects like butterflies and bees?  Is to prevent the land from eroding?  Is it to transform a space? Whatever the purpose the Gardener must know before the work is put in.  The gardener must have an idea what they want their garden to look like in the end. What types of colors? What height of plants? So as a leader  ask yourself what do you want from your school, staff and students?  What is your goal for your school? What is your vision? What does success look like in your school?

Preparation is key. Before you begin a garden, you must gather all the needed materials and resources necessary for your garden to begin. You need to gather your tools and your equipment and the hands and help, if you need help, to build your garden.  You need to gather the plants, seeds, pots, mulch, rocks, and other materials you need to make up your garden. Some people can gather everything at once and complete it all in one big push because they have the resources, equipment, money, and the help.  Others are limited and plan their gardens one step at a time or work in phases to do a little at a time. Without this step, the execution of the plan can fall apart or be difficult. What do you need to make your vision a reality? Do you need the right staff? Do you need volunteer help? Do you need financial resources?

Prep the ground for the best results.  In order to plant seeds. You must prep the ground to receive the seeds. You must till the soil and break up the soil. You must remove barriers and things which may impede the growth of the seeds such as rocks, tree stumps, trash and dead plants.  If the soil is not rich, you may mix in some new soil to boost it up or add some nutrients in the soil. You may even put down a barrier which gives the seeds a chance to grow without other influences or weeds that you can not see at the time from growing. Have you prepared and removed all obstacles to your goals?

You must pull the weeds. Once planted you must maintain and keep up your garden. You must water your garden, care for your plants and you must pull the weeds. The weeds are the influences and distractions which choke the productivity in your garden. Weeds sprout up any and everywhere. Weeds are natural. However, if not addressed, weeds will spread and choke out the rest of the garden by taking away the nutrients. If your organization or school uses people or has people in it …. Weeds can grow. The types of weeds often seen in a school garden are conflicts, gossip, rumors, personality conflicts, disagreements and seeds of discord. As the leader you must pull the weeds as soon as they show up. The longer you wait the more they spread and the more work it takes to pull them up. As a leader you must monitor conflicts and sources of conflict in your school or organization. You can help prevent weeds by using some weed killers. Weed killers are the things that you do to be proactive to prevent conflicts in your staff. Team building, fairness, morale building activities, clear expectations, clear communication, and staff recognitions are great examples of weed spray that can help prevent weeds in your garden.

Picking the right plants. When planting a garden, you must be sure that you choose the right types of plants. There are so many different types of plants that you can plant in your garden. There are fragrant plants, blooming plants, ground cover plants, and different color plants.  You must be sure that plants you choose, fit the garden that you have and the garden that you want. You must make sure that the plants that you have in your garden are suited for the weather and climate. Does your garden get direct sunlight or is in the shade? Is your climate dry with little rainfall or is rainfall abundant?  Some plants will not do well in certain environments. They will not achieve their maximum potential without lots of work and maintenance. Sometimes the gardener can choose the wrong plants and spend too much time maintaining the plant because it is just planted in the wrong location or needs to be moved to another garden. Not all plants will thrive in the garden you plant.  As a leader in your school or organization you make sure that you have and choose the very best staff and people for your team.  You not only have to be sure that you have the best people but the right people for the tasks, the jobs and for the work in your organization. Also as a leader you must recognized that not all programs and initiatives can be work in every school. You must know your community and school.

Master Gardeners must grow too. Gardeners must continue to learn in order to create the gardens they desire and to maintain them. Master Gardeners train and develop their skills.  They read about the plants or seeds they have planted and how to bring out the maximum potentials.  They talk to other gardeners and visit other gardens to learn.  They know that in order to have the best garden, they must be the very best gardener.

As a leader

  • What type of garden are you trying to plant?
  • What is your maintenance schedule and routine for maintaining your garden?
  • Have you identified the weeds and a method of weed control?
  • Do you have the resources to build and maintain the garden you desire?

“Leader ,How does your Garden Grow?”

“Introduction : How does your Garden Grow?” Part 1 of 5


During the summer, as many principals across the world, I spend the time “off” preparing my school building and campus for the new school year and the arrival of staff and students.  I work on curriculum, instructional themes, plot strategies, building improvements, facility upgrades, building partnerships, and even …landscaping. This summer I found myself working on my “Friday “project of improving the front entrance landscaping to make it more visually appealing to our guests, staff and my students.  I made many trips to the local Lowe’s and Home Depot (and made a few friends at both stores). I hauled many, many bags of mulch, gravel, soil and trays of flowers. I spread the fresh mulch, added all the gravel, added edgers, remove dead shrubs, cut tall weeds, and planted new colorful flowers.  And like most principals and teachers… I spent a lot of my own money to make the project happen just right.  Anyone who has ever planted a flower garden, or any garden knows that it is now an easy task …no matter what you may see on television or in a magazine! It is hard work. It requires a lot of thought, planning, effort, countless hours of labor and maintenance. The work can be demanding, tiring, lonely, frustrating but when done correctly it is very rewarding in the end.

As I worked, planned, and watched the vision take shape, I thought to myself that this is a perfect analogy of what being a school leader is like. The leader is the lead gardener and the garden is your school: all of the people, students, strategies commitments, missions and visions. It is the job of the school leader to create a beautiful garden, maintain it, and help it grow to its full potential. The school garden must be carefully planned cultivated, nurtured, and worked to create a garden which everyone can enjoy and benefit.

 The leader toils and works during school breaks and after hours to make sure that their school is ready and growing. The leader continues to nurture their school once the seeds have been planted and school year begins.  They make sure that all the members of their school are supported and cared for so that they can bloom. The leader also recruits help when needed, researches better techniques, and brings in additional material when needed. It is hard work and tedious work, but the leader believes in the garden and knows that the work is worth it. The benefits and rewards are great and are for all. Are you the lead gardener at you school? 

  • Are you the lead gardener for your school or organization?
  • Does your garden need some help or is it prospering?
  • How does your garden grow? Is it healthy?

Read my blog posts and reflect to see “How your garden grows.” Please leave comments so that I can “grow” too.

When to lead with “I”


There is no “I” in team.  This is true. Leaders are supposed to be selfless. This is true. However there are times when a true leader must use the pronouns of “I” and “My”.  There are times that you must lead with “I”.

For a leader the most important time for them to use “I” is when there has been a mistake or something has gone wrong. When things go wrong, it is very easy for people to shift the blame and blame other people.  There are times that the blame does belong to someone else on your team or someone under your leadership. However, a true will accept the blame and shift the blame focus from their team members.   For a leader you take none of the credit when things go right but you must absorb the blame when things go awry.

The 2018 College Football Championship game between the University of Georgia and Alabama was decided in overtime by one touchdown pass.  The Alabama receiver caught the pass and ran into the end zone due to a missed coverage by a Georgia defensive back.  In the post-game press conference when asked about the game, Coach Smart of Georgia could have pointed the blame at his assistant coaches for making the wrong calls or the players for missing the coverage but he did not do that. In his press conference Coach Smart absorbed all of the blame and heaped all of the praise on his players. True leaders know that the blame or “the buck “always stops with them.

Can you imagine what it would be like for a head coach in his position to do the opposite? What if the head coach blamed the players publically after losses? What if the head coach blamed his staff during press conferences?  Can you imagine what impact that would have on the team and players?  Can you imagine players wanting to play for a coach who did that?

A leader’s job is not just to lead but it is also to protect and support. Leaders have thick skins so that they can absorb and deflect blows and attacks meant for those who follow them. True leaders also know that people will not follow a leader who is always shifting the blame. Team members are more loyal when they know that their leader will protect them and take the blame from them even when they deserve it.  Team members will also be more open and willingly to accept criticism from such a leader. Most importantly team members will work harder and get better for a leader that will make sacrifices for them.

A true leader knows that once you accept the blame or the failure, you can shift effort to finding a solution or getting better.  If you are not willingly to shoulder the blame as a leader then perhaps you are not ready to lead.  Blame finding, blame casting, and finger pointing is wasted time that prevents you from finding solutions and moving forward.

True leaders use the pronouns “I” and “we” instead of “them” or “they”. One is the language of ownership and accepted responsibility and the latter is the language of blame.

Remember in times of blame or mistakes, a leader leads with “I”.