People Want a Boss.

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It is definitely that time of year. And not just for resumes and countdowns (spring break and end of the year).

Schools districts are in the process of hiring administrators for next year.

More people will be joining me in this challenging profession (notice I didn’t say “foolish” people… although you can assume it’s implied).

In a matter of months, they will be neck deep in troubles.

The problems they will face are tough, but manageable. Especially, if they have an idea about what they are getting into.

Being in charge of anything makes you tired. Being in charge of kids makes you really tired.

Being in charge of adults makes you borderline stupid.

But someone has to do it. mean_boss2

When you are in charge, you quickly learn the tricks of the trade or you get steamrolled. And unemployed.

Once hired, people will expect you to make decisions. No one likes wishy-washy. You will never hear a staff member say “I wish my (principal, assistant principals, dean, superintendent, etc.) was more wishy-washy.”

People want those in charge to be decisive. While people hate being told what to do, they hate not being told worse.

Now this doesn’t mean they will approve of your decisions. In fact, some people will take a great deal of pleasure in pointing out your mistakes (and trust me, you will make hundreds… if things go well and you aren’t in the profession very long).

That is okay, as mistakes and second guessing are part of the job.

If you are hired to lead, you need to do it or get out of the way.

When placed in command – take charge. -Norman Schwarzkopf

While staff members may criticize your bad decisions, they will be even more critical if you don’t make decisions (in the profession we call that “smelling blood”… and by we, I mean me).

Since this is a lose-lose proposition for you, make well-informed decisions and hope for the best (and by hope I mean pray and call your lawyer… not necessarily in that order).

Others may point out your faults, but deep down they don’t want to be in charge. If being in charge was easy, everyone would do it.

People will always offer advice on the easy situations, but when things get difficult you are on your own.

While opinions are a dime a dozen, solutions are much harder to find.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. Just make sure you involve people with knowledge of the situation. And those people want the situation to improve.

Please don’t force people to be on a committee. No one likes a committee. And if they do, that just shows the quality of their judgement so consequently you don’t want them on a committee.

It’s a vicious circle.

And if you force people to serve, they won’t be happy. Or productive. And then what have you accomplished.

You have angered people and you end up with a watered down idea.

To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent. – Robert Copeland

You will also learn that as a school administrator you are no longer a teacher.

I picked up on this when I noticed the sign on the Teacher’s Lounge didn’t say Teacher’s/Administrator’s Lounge.

You are no longer in the group; you are responsible for the group. The trick is remaining available and approachable to all employees, but not getting too close to some or all.

A good leader is part of the group, but not in the group.

Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them. -John Maxwell

I believe that people want to be led. They just don’t want to be bossed. Having a boss and being bossed are two different scenarios.

Employees have opinions and like to share their thoughts. Especially on decisions that affect them. And this is a good thing.

Most good leaders will tell you that some, if not all, of their best ideas came from other people.

Give an invested person a problem and it is highly likely they will come up with a solution.

If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results. – George S. Patton

Another challenge is leading people to change. Just a heads up… people don’t like change. At least at first.

People like change when it is over. But only after it has become the new norm.

Employees have put time and effort into the status qou. Things just didn’t accidently become like they are. Someone worked towards it.

So when you ask those same people to change, their first reaction is often “This will never work”

They usually don’t have a reason why it won’t work. Unless you count “Because” as a reason.

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. -Rosalynn Carter

Most people react to change better than they think they will. Too often, they don’t give themselves enough credit on their ability to adjust.

And the older we get, the more of a challenge it seems to be (I am well on my way to reaching my goal of being an angry old man who is stuck in his ways).

People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing. A leader’s job is to help people have vision of their potential. -John Porter

You can lead people to change if you give them several things. Fair warning, time to adjust, direction, and support are all important.

But there is one thing that is more important.


The people involved have to be told (usually over and over) that everything is going to be fine. We can survive this and we (and students) will be better off for it.

Hope is free. Feel free to spread it around.

A leader is a dealer in hope. -Napoleon Bonaparte

If you want to be successful, this is the best advice I can share.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid (it’s going to happen, so don’t fight it).

Surround yourself with good people. Don’t feel threatened if you aren’t the smartest person in the room.

Take this as a blessing, not a threat.

The ultimate leader is one who is willing to develop people to the point that they surpass him or her in knowledge and ability. – Fred A. Manske, Jr.

Like with most things in life, leadership isn’t overly complicated.

Keep things simple.

In summary, my 4 Keys to LEAD.

Listen more than you talk.

Encourage more than you dictate.

Anticipate more than you react.

Don’t be the smartest person in the room.

Lastly, keep in mind that I have no idea what I am talking about. This advice, says my lawyer, should not be taken for anything more than it is… rambling incoherent thoughts of an administrator who is not getting enough sleep. I am just like everyone working in a classroom or a school… wondering if my spring break will ever get here.

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14 Responses to “People Want a Boss.”

  1. Jay Koch
    on Apr 2nd, 2009
    @ 9:51 pm


    You are correct that most people want someone to lead them. Being a leader is a tricky proposition.

    I use horses to teach leadership to people. The need for leadership to keep horses safe is coded deep into their DNA. They crave leadership and look to the human to provide it. If the human can’t, they will take over, smelling blood, as you say. Also, a horse’s feedback on your leadership abilities is always honest and immediate. Can you say that about people?

    I like your four keys. I have recently posted items on my blog about the first two. For the third, my horsemanship instructors would say, “Do less sooner rather than more later.” And, as for the fourth, horses always find new ways make me humble.

    Thanks for the tweet that sent me to your post.

    May the horse be with you…


    Michael Smith Reply:

    Jay – I may steal this – “Do less sooner rather than more later.” Thanks for the comment.

  2. Angie
    on Apr 3rd, 2009
    @ 7:25 am

    I see you’ve visited I chucked on several of your statements. My biggest discovery this year is that I’m no longer a classroom teacher, but I like to think of myself as a teacher of teaachers (and they are the worst students ever). I once read an article that the best leaders led from the pack, not in front of it. Basically the idea is that, if you are out in front, many will ignore you or think that you don’t understand them. By being in the trenches with them, you can subtlely influence their direction. That’s why I think it’s important for teachers to see administrators do some of the peon work so they know you’re not just sitting in a cozy office all day drinking coffee and searching the internet.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    Angie – Great teachers would be great no matter what. They wouldn’t settle for anything less.

  3. Eduguy101
    on Apr 4th, 2009
    @ 7:00 pm

    Great advice…and timely for me. We are in the midst of change, and some turmoil (budget, moving staff….) and I need to step up and take my staff to where they need to be, not where they want to be.

    Thanks for the good words and motivation.

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    on Apr 25th, 2009
    @ 5:19 am

    [...] this stage of my career, I am not a counter. My life is passing fast enough…kind of like the huge bowl of chip dip [...]

  5. Sondra
    on Apr 27th, 2009
    @ 8:32 pm

    I appreciated this post and found the line about Hope appropriate for me today. It is always nice to know that as administrators, we are not alone (well, we are in our building, but not in the big picture as a counterculture!)

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    on Jul 6th, 2009
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  7. An Introduction to the Blog. I am Going to Work for the Man. | PrincipalsPage The Blog
    on Jul 6th, 2009
    @ 11:47 am

    [...] years ago I got promoted to Superintendent (or demoted… you can decide), but by then it was too late to change the name of the [...]

  8. Rachel
    on Jul 7th, 2009
    @ 5:20 am

    I am preparing to interview this week for a principal position within my school district. What I have read on this blog has been very helpful to me as I prepare. A typical question that is usually in an interview pertains to leadership style and how you would work with teachers. The comments here have helped me organize my thoughts and put things into perspective for me. Thanks! :)

    I especially like the 4 Keys to LEAD. Listening, encouraging, and anticipating are vitally important to a principalship. The last one- don’t be the smartest person in the room is more difficult to accept- even though I agree it is important. I think that if we think we are the smartest we will lose out on some very important contributions of others. However, I also think that it is hard to admit we aren’t the smartest.

  9. fhaderlie
    on Jul 8th, 2009
    @ 4:40 pm

    Good comments

  10. Principal
    on Jul 21st, 2009
    @ 8:11 pm

    Even good teachers need a strong leader.

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    on Jul 25th, 2009
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  12. leadership speech
    on Jun 27th, 2012
    @ 3:31 pm

    There is a business writer named Stan Slap who wrote: “People will rise to the cause if the cause is worth getting up for.” – Rhino Founder Anyways I think we can all learn from this knowledge on business to live better.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.