PMP: 083 The Importance of Mindset, Motivation, and Modeling for Education Leaders

A few days ago I was at airport security when I ran into a parent from my previous school.

Photo by PeterThoeny – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License https://www.flickr.com/photos/98786299@N00


We exchanged pleasantries, and I asked him about his children. As we said goodbyes, he commented, “We miss you.” I thanked him, and as I walked away I couldn’t help but be grateful.

In my new role as a director for my state principal association, I often think about the joy of leaving work I enjoyed to do work I also enjoy. And when you give yourself to a school for more than a decade, you leave behind a lot of your heart and soul.

Ten years gave me time to make a lot of mistakes. But it also gave me time to plant my roots deeply and enjoy watching others grow. In order to lead so that your pros outweigh the cons, you have to maintain serious focus on your targets.

Last week I hosted a webinar I’m doing on my first book, Principal Matters: The Motivation, Courage, Action, and Teamwork Needed for School Leaders. This past episode was about the importance of staying focused, understanding motivation, and making each day count. An easier way to remember that is three M’s: Mindset, Motivation, and Modeling.

Whether you are just stepping into a position as a school leader or you have been serving in your role for a long time, you never outgrow the need to reflect on how your service is influencing others. I’d like to encourage you to think about these three areas and do a quick self-assessment with three takeaways from each.

If you’d like more illustrations for each of the following areas, I encourage you to either watch the webinar video recording and slides of the presentation, or listen to the audio version via this week’s podcast:

Part I: Mindset

No matter how long you’ve been in leadership, you always face the tension of two competing pressures: one, creating the best environment for your school or organization; two, finding solutions to the pressing issues at hand. So often the immediate needs are what consume the most time and energy. They can’t be ignored. But if they are your only focus, then you lose sight of the first priority: creating the best environment for learning and growing. So how do you stay focused on the positive outcomes so important?

I like to remind principals of three easy ways to stay focused:

1. Get out of your office.

2. Turn difficulties into opportunities.

3. Treasure positive moments.

Part II: Motivation

When you think about what drives you to keep serving others, you need to look at the motive behind your actions. I think a lot of leaders fall into traps when they fail to reflect on what is driving them to make decisions. Author and minister Timothy Keller points out that most people are motivated by either fear or pride. So many of the small and big decisions we make can be influenced by our fear of what others think or by our egos. Keller says there is a third alternative: beauty. When we become captivated by the wonder and amazement in improving, redeeming, healing, or helping others, we have a deeper purpose.

Here are three quick questions to reflect on about your motivation:

1. What motivates you to do your best work?

2. What meaning can you tie to even the most mundane tasks?

3. What is something you want to learn more about?

These kinds of questions help push you forward in your thinking, and keep you fresh in your outlook.

Part III: Modeling

Robert Smith is the author of a book, 20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Right Now, where he explores the realization that he had lived 20,000 days when he turned 55 years old. When a student comes to high school at age 14, he or she has already lived 5,000. What will you do to make the next 1,500 days of his or her life the most meaningful? What will you do to make each day count for yourself and for those whom you serve?

I believe a big part of making each day count is choosing to model what you expect in others. Your punctuality, professionalism, visibility, and accountability must reflect the kind of commitment and excellence you want to see in those around you.

Here are three quick reminders on ways to make each day count:

1. Set bold personal goals.

2. Model making the most of each day.

3. Share your failures and successes with others.

Let’s Wrap This Up

When I communicated to my school over the summer that I was taking a new position, I received an email from a junior boy. Among the many words he expressed, the ones that stood out the most was “role model”. I can remember times when I was not a good role model. I can think of lots of times when I lost focus or was motivated by fear or pride. But it is encouraging to know that students are looking for role models, and they value the examples they see their teachers or leaders making.

Why is your mindset, motivation, and modeling so important? Because others are watching. Remember this week that you are setting an example for the direction others will go. You are influencing the momentum and atmosphere of those around you. You will never do it perfectly. But you will leave a mark on those around you. Determine to make it a positive one.

Now It’s Your Turn

What is one action you can take today to self-assess in your own mindset, motivation, and mission? Think of one team member or student who may need encouragement in their growth and development. Then reach out today in a way that can help them feel supported or better equipped for their next steps.

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Principal Matters–The Book!


School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

Messaging Matters


Harness the power of messaging to create a culture of acknowledgment, respect, and celebration. Written specially for leaders, this title is divided into three parts, helping readers to maximize their role as chief communicators with students, teachers, and parents and community. Each chapter includes suggestions for using digital tools to enhance messaging and ends with reflection questions and practical next steps.