Going beyond the PIRATE manifesto for Leaders
First let me say that my inspiration for this article is Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a PIRATE, his Twitter chats (#tlap), and his visit to my school district to deliver his “Teach Like a PIRATE” credo. He also stayed at my home before his presentation, when we spent some time visiting. As Superintendent, my theme for that year was “TLAP”! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to him, his friendship, and his advice as I was writing my book, Pirate On! Lead Fearlessly, Ignite Passion, Inspire Trust in Your Crew & Emerge as a Leader of Significance, published in 2016. In the spring of 2013, I began researching and seeking contributions from other educational leaders who inspire me. Soon after, I was asked to deliver a message at a church pastored by a former student-athlete of mine and the idea for my book took shape. I added to Dave’s acronym the attributes that I believe are essential for leading. I included how neuroscience supports each trait, as well as examples of actual pirates and how they exhibit these qualities.
For the “P” chapter, I added perseverance, believing that it is critical in both leading and teaching. You will have issues, problems, and hurdles to clear. You will work with challenging peers, as well as bosses, but if you can persevere through these tough times and exhibit professionalism while staying true to your vision and goals, you will get through those tough times and maintain your sanity.
I included integrity in the “I” chapter. Without a doubt, this should be a cornerstone of any leader. Without integrity, your followers will not trust you. Without trust, you cannot influence. Influence is, after all, what leadership is all about! If you cannot influence, there is no way you can carry out your vision for your organization. I debated between “integrity” and “influence” for my additional “I” chapter, but finally decided on integrity because of its importance but included influence in the same chapter. Integrity takes time to build, but only a moment to lose! However, that manifestation is a result of many choices or decisions made over time. In my book, I included the lyrics to the song “Slow Fade,” by Casting Crowns, which describes this process quite poignantly. As Tom Peters says in his book, In Search of Excellence, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.”
The “R” chapter of my book focuses on relationships. In virtually every Twitter chat in which I participate, “relationships” emerges as an important focus of many questions posed. We all know that a positive relationship is, and how critical it is in creating a positive learning environment. Building and creating positive relationships takes work, but in the end, it will pay huge dividends. If I could only choose one attribute to emphasize, building positive relationships would be it! Each faculty and staff member needs to know that he/she matters!
I chose authority as the emphasis of the “A” chapter of Pirate On! Regardless of where we are, we are always under someone else’s authority. Someone must be in charge! FDR coined the phrase, “The buck stops here.” Ultimately the leader has to make the tough decisions, hold the staff accountable, and map the vision of the organization. In my presentations, I use the meme of a scratched-up, battle-scarred lion, with the caption, “Everyone wants to be the beast until it’s time to do what real beasts do.” While the leader does possess the power on the campus or in the district, I have found that when you use power, you begin to lose power. You may not lose the power of the position, but you're wasting the power to influence. As explained by Tony Evans, author of Kingdom Man, the “king of the jungle” uses his roar to protect, provide, partner, and lead to declare his dominion. Sometimes the leader has to be “the beast!” As Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant, often says, “Every decision is like surgery. It is an intervention into the system and therefore carries the risk of shock.”
As the focus of the “T” chapter, I chose trust, another cornerstone of effective leadership. In my opinion, trust involves likeability. The leader/teacher needs to be liked by her/his students and staff. Indeed, if people do not like the leader, they probably will not trust her/him. Trust is a major factor in the classroom, as well as at the campus and district. At each level, if the student/follower does not trust the leader, the leader will not be able to influence. Building relationships is the key to inspiring trust. If there is one thing I learned while serving for 30 years in education, it is this: if you love your students, their parents will trust you. Stephen Covey says it well, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” If the leader establishes a climate of trust (beginning with building relationships), he/she can influence, initiate change, and carry out the vision of the campus or district. When faculty and staff know that the leader cares for them, they will “run through walls” for him/her. This past November, we elected the 45th President of the United States. The saddest aspect of the election is that, according to a Gallup poll, neither candidate had a trust factor of over 39%. President Trump has a long way to go to gain the trust of the majority of the American people.
For the “E” chapter of my book, I added empowerment. It’s not about possessing or using power for yourself, but adding power to others. Empowering your faculty is giving them the freedom to fail. You may be saying, “Wait! What?” If leaders would give their followers the freedom to fail and then give feedback, imagine what can be accomplished! That freedom is an essential part of the “growth mindset” that Carol Dweck writes about in her book, Mindset.
That being said, I had a difficult time choosing “empowerment” or “edification” and “emotion” in my book, as there is clearly a connection. It is certainly important to edify your faculty and staff. Indeed many people prefer recognition for a job well done over gifts or money. Don’t get me wrong here – Everyone appreciates a bonus or a raise, but the education profession is different from the corporate world in this area. Leaders should use faculty meetings, hand-written notes (sadly, a dying practice) and private conversations to edify their followers. The April 9, 2014, issue US News & World Report reported the results of another Gallup poll: Seven out of 10 teachers are not engaged and “feel that their supervisors do not care about them as a person.” If you do not care, you surely cannot empower. As George Couros says, “As leaders in education, our job is not to control those we serve but unleash their talent.”
Emotion plays a huge part in connecting and leading. Neuroscience asserts that emotion is the gateway to learning. Capture their emotion; then you capture their brain. One of the best ways to capture emotion is through storytelling. Use your experiences and your story to engage those under your leadership. Once they are engaged with your message, then a leader can lead effectively. Everyone will find something with which to engage. Your job is to make sure it is the leader’s message!
I chose service and significance to close out the PIRATES acronym of my book. Striving to perform as a servant-leader should be every leader’s goal. It is through service that true joy is achieved. Just recently I viewed a YouTube video of the entire Ore City High School (faculty & students) in Ore City, Texas, performing acts of service in their community. I encourage you to click on this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v+tEfqKKD5m04&sns=em) and watch. It will warm your heart as you watch.
When I was hired as a Superintendent, one of the charges I received from the Board was to create a high school. We were a small PK-8 district, and the community wanted a high school of their own so that students could stay in our district to finish their public school education. As Superintendent I added a local mandate of 50 hours of community service as a graduation requirement so that our students could experience serving others. Krystal Floyd, one of my first Twitter friends, says it best, “My passion for education is to inspire others to greatness by serving them.”
As we move from being a great leader to being a leader of significance, we must ask author John Maxwell’s questions of our followers: "Do you like me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? Will you add value to my life?" If you can answer each in the affirmative, you will emerge as a leader of significance. Leaders have to realize that everything worthwhile is uphill. Selfishness and significance are opposite traits. Leaders must value people and understand that everything rises and falls on leadership. Leaders must strive to enhance the lives of the people they lead.