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Leadership Land Mines

leadership Apr 26, 2020

Ever Play the Game Operation?

It was the game where you, the doctor, were responsible for remedying health issues like the charlie horse, spare ribs and butterflies. The most fun was removing the ankle bone from the knee bone. You all remember getting buzzed before you could remove the infection. Wouldn’t it be great if life really gave you a buzzer before you stepped on the landmine?

My last 12 months have been filled with leadership landmines. One of the critical elements in learning how to lead is to avoid those landmines, outline the map through the battlefield, and make it to the final destination with all limbs intact. Having reflected on these last 12 months, I realize that I need to raise my awareness. This will take more than just putting new batteries in my buzzer. I am going to need a better map to guide me through the battlefield.  

Here are some landmines I hit that I must avoid this year.  

Poor Staffing Decisions: If you have read anything I have written in the past, and bless you for doing so, there is a gap between what we do and what we know. It is called the knowledge gap. The landmine of poor staffing decisions is a landmine that blows off multiple limbs throughout the year. We have assisted many schools to recruit their principals, assistant principals, and teachers. We have a detailed process which includes initial screening interviews, strategic projects, on-the-spot demonstration of skills, thorough supervisory reference calls, and multiple on-campus meetings with stakeholders. I can truthfully say that each time I have had the unfortunate task of terminating or not-renewing a contract, it is because I have skipped one or more of these steps. Typically this would happen because I was convinced I needed someone to fill that position and fast; however, the right thing to do is to slow down and focus on the best decision for the organization ...not my to-do list. Before you begin any hiring process, you must have a clear understanding of what this person will be responsible for and why. 

Lack of Orientation: This landmine has been bringing me down for years. I guarantee all of you have a dynamite orientation plan for all staff members at the start of the school year. Question:  what happens when the new employee misses those critical days? Who do you rely on to explain the organization’s culture and expectations which you lost sleep over mapping out? Have you stepped on the landmine of expecting the old staff member to “train” the new hire? Come on...raise your hand. I would, but a landmine blew it off completely. You all know how this goes - the work doesn’t stop just because there are new staff in the building. The new teacher starts, you introduce them to a few people, some students. All they can think about is how their students are going to react to their opening lesson and the office manager badgers them to get their personnel information and W-2 filled out. Leadership expert John Maxwell taught me, if you are not preparing on the front, you will be repairing on the backend. I spent too many summer days cleaning out the classrooms of poorly-oriented and insufficiently developed team members. Your people are your most valuable resource (professional capital). Treat them like it! 

Employee Development: Anyone who has worked with me knows that I tend to develop others through examples, empowerment, and resources. I can honestly say I am not sure how else to do it...but one thing I know for sure, this model only works for a small percentage of people. The consequences for an organization that does not have a continuous employee development plan which is intentional, actionable, and personalized for all levels of learners will be detrimental. If you assume, like I tend to do, that everyone is as driven and hungry to learn as you are (why else would you be reading this otherwise), you will find that team members will only rise to the level of their training. They will not see challenges as opportunities to overcome; they will see them as obstacles, barriers, and excuses to revert back to the only way they know how to solve the problem...poorly. Even more importantly, if you do not have an employee development plan that is challenging, opportunistic and results-driven, the individuals who crave to learn will leave the organization and all you will be left with are the untrained underachievers. Sorry, it is true. Whether you decide to lead this professional development project or you bring in an outside resource, be sure of this one rule which I have broke many times: You cannot lead anyone to a place you have never been. So do NOT pretend to be an expert. Your reflections and skills are probably not too much different from those of whom you are training. They will see through your facade and again, revert back to what they know. 

Timely Communication: They say that every time you triple the size of your staff your level of communication and standard operating systems need to increase by 10! This is especially true if you avoid communication because of a fear of conflict, hurting someone, or getting your own feelings hurt. They call these “crucial conversations” and there is a series of books to teach you how to to do it effectively (Fierce Conversations, Crucial Conversations, Thanks for the Feedback). I read them all, but the human factor in me always wins. I honestly cannot recall a time where I had a timely crucial conversation. I have had dozens of crucial conversations, but never when the time was paramount. This law I have broken so often, it is a miracle I have any credibility left.  When you don’t have the conversation at the right time, the conversation never gets easier and the consequences are always worse. You have no right to complain about something that you have allowed to happen.  If you no longer want to allow it, address it. 

Keeping Score: Just today I read a passage about false guilt and how troubling it is on the soul. It has taken me decades to learn this law. Those who do things for others for the sake of acknowledgment or paybacks live a very lonely life. The solution for one is not the solution for all. When you keep score you will never win. No one will ever, in your mind, repay you - so stop expecting it. The people who will lose limbs when this landmine is triggered will range from the staff you hire, the family and friends you help, and the children you raise. Do it because someone did it for you. Do it because you should be grateful for the role you are currently in. Remember, charisma gets you through the door, character keeps you in the room. 

This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller. If you found it helpful,  please share it with a colleague. You can learn more about Dr. Miller and his organization, Leaders Building Leaders, by going to

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