My Leadership Philosophy: First Who, Then Why, Then How, Then What

philosophy.pngAs educational leaders, we must have the self-discipline to see the whole picture, identifying interrelationships and searching for patterns. We must dig deep to identify root causes of problems and challenges, avoiding the temptation to simply react to static snapshots and continually “put out fires.”

If we take the time to really reflect on many of challenges that emerge in our schools today, most often these are systems problems, not people problems. Therefore, if we do not invest the time to examine our entire system, our familiar solutions will lead us right back our familiar problems.

Instead we must constantly seek to bring the work of all the adults we serve into alignment. Everyone in our system must be keenly aware of our aim and how all our work connects to and supports this aim. As leaders, we have the responsibility to make sure our colleagues have continual clarity about our aim. We must also ensure the work we are asking of them actually aligns with our aim so that all the work we are engaging in supports a common goal. If we are all in a large boat rowing toward the shore, we must all be paddling in the same direction.



Overview of Philosophy:

My philosophy of leadership has evolved over time. In its current iteration, I can state it very simply: First Who, Then Why, Then How, Then What. I believe this ties very well into the mission and aim most learning institutions, when critically examined.


First Who:

James Comer said, “No significant learning happens without a significant relationship.” What will our students remember from their time in our system? For most people, it is people, not course-specific content, that are most valued and appreciated. We admire our former teachers and coaches that truly cared about and sought to learn more about us. We also remember the teachers that didn’t.

Marzano said, “If a teacher has a good relationship with their students, then their students will more readily engage in the learning happening in the classroom.” If you are an administrators, your people are your teachers and associates. You must proactively seek out opportunities to build relationships with them, as well as your students, keeping mindful of the fact that every conversation provides an opportunity to build or damage a relationship.

I aspire to be a school administrator someday. In this role, I am also likely to spend a significant part of my day on behavior management. As I see it, behavior management is largely about building and cultivating relationships. The focus should not merely be on discipline and consequences, as the word discipline literally means “to teach.”

Therefore, students should not see me only when they are in trouble. I will make it a priority to seek out students that may present behavior management problems down the road and take an interest in their lives in positive settings to prevent or minimize behavior problems down the road. When discipline is called for, I will remember that it is not my role to be an evaluator or judge, but rather an investigator, seeking first to understand the root causes that led to the behavior manifestation. It’s important to get the student’s story first and then to offer support by asking how I can help them. Throughout this process, I will need to make every effort to ensure the student’s dignity is still intact after the interaction, giving consequences for the behavior, not the student.


Then Why:

In his book “Start With Why”, Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy why what you do, they buy why you do it.” My why is to create create a well-informed, skilled, and collaborative citizenry, capable of creating collective solutions to diverse, multifaceted problems and functioning appropriately in a rapidly evolving global society.

Sinek states that people always respond to the environments they are in, making a compelling argument about how we are able to achieve remarkable success when working in groups and lists several benefits that lie within the structure of working with people we trust. Not all groups are created equally or function at the same levels, but one clear and underlying theme to his message was that when we feel safe amongst our own, our collective efforts are multiplied

Sinek echoes this philosophy when he states, “The only variable that matters are the conditions inside the organization. Leaders need to get the environment right in their own organization.” In essence, Sinek is saying that leaders should pay more attention to creating the right culture for learning, leadership, and sustained greatness than they do in creating “abstract and amorphous vision statements”. Creating the right environment creates feelings of trust and safety among members of the group, causing them to rise to their potential, take necessary risks and adapt to become greater.

Furthermore, Sinek argues that the most effective leaders understand that the cost of leadership is their own self-interest. Members of the group accept that leaders deserve certain benefits for being leaders, but leaders must also embrace the expectations that are placed on the leader from the group they serve. Leaders must protect the group from danger. Great leaders never sacrifice the group to take care of their interests. Great leaders sacrifice their own self-interests to take care of their people.

Leaders must also understand that titles do not dictate the quality of their leadership. Humans are complex animals, especially within group setting and dynamics. Sinek suggests a basic truth that exists among groups with leaders: “We would rather align ourselves with an average performer that we can trust that a top performer that we can’t trust.” Trust, as it turns out, is a critical factor to effective leadership. Without trust, leaders aren’t really leaders in the sense of being the most effective leaders they can be.

Leadership isn’t about barking out commands to subordinates. Instead, it is about facilitating a process to build positive relationships with our people, leveraging their talents, ideas, and passions to build a structure and organization that is flexible, resilient, innovative, and sustainable. Leadership is also about mindset. Great leaders embrace teh complicated messiness of learning and growing. Often, we have to fail many times before we can succeed.


I believe Sinek would agree with this, as he talks about how leaders need to look after the people around them. He says, “Leadership is a choice; a daily practice or putting other peoples lives before your own interests. When you spend a few minutes to make a new pot of coffee when no one is watching, that’s an act of leadership. You are sacrificing your time and energy to take care of those around you.”


Then How:

How you do anything is how you do everything. I’ve been a high school teacher for the last 11 years. High schools often pride themselves on ensuring their students are college-ready. In the minds of many, this means establishing rigorous standards and benchmarks and exposing students to content that will prepare students for success beyond high school.

These are important experiences; however, perhaps even more important than learning content is building skills. Learning how to think is much more learning what to think. Students need to become flexible thinkers, embracing challenges and the role of failure in learning. Our pedagogical approaches must ensure that our students become comfortable with being uncomfortable, capable problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, creators, innovators, and producers of new learning.


Then What:

Clearly their experiences in our system must ensure that students are able to master core academic content and be able to transfer this knowledge to other situations. Knowing the what is important. We want our students to be able to carry on meaningful conversations without stopping to “Google” everything they will say next. My only wish in education is that we didn’t start with what as often as we do. I believe the who, why, and how must be addressed before we tackle the what.

~Brad Hurst



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