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Focus Your Energy for What Matters

leadership priorities Jun 27, 2020

My family and I recently had the opportunity to embark on a Gulf Stream fishing trip. We caught over 300 lbs of Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Barracuda, Bonito and a few other species.

It is certainly a day I will never forget that was filled with many leadership lessons. 

Our fishing spot was three hours one way, sixty miles offshore. We left the dock at 5:00 am, fished for seven hours in 90 degree heat and returned home with over 300 lbs of fish.

On the way back to shore, I climbed to the bridge of the 50 foot boat and I happened to notice both the captain and the first mate were sleeping.

After I had a small tantrum regarding our safety I realized great leaders understand when they need to be at their best - expending the most energy in order to meet their mission. 

Our captain put the boat on autopilot, allowing the captain to conserve his energy and be at his best for the key tasks of the day: 

  1. Analyzing the weather conditions 
  2. Plotting the correct coordinates
  3. Scouting the surroundings (keeping a constant eye on breaking water, birds diving and floating debris that Mahi love to hide under)
  4. Catching fish (proper boat speed, bait colors, etc.)
  5. Being a great host 
  6. Docking the boat
  7. Marketing the charter boat to potential clients at the pier when we returned 

Leadership Note: It is not possible for a leader to perform at one hundred percent for 24 hours a day (especially if your work day lasts 13+ hours on a boat in 90 degree heat).

My mentor, John Maxwell, has taught me that great leaders know when they and their team need to have their highest energy as well as when they need to allow for low energy, rejuvenating tasks. He knows that he needs to be at his best when he is creating content, speaking on the stage, connecting with audiences and collaborating with world leaders about transformation. He does not need to be at his best when he's signing books backstage or while he is traveling. 

So the first important question is: As a school leader, when do you need to perform with high energy?  

When I was a school principal, I knew I needed to be at my best when I led professional development sessions focused on school culture and new initiatives, when I provided teacher feedback, when I held critical meetings with teachers and stakeholders, or when my team and I needed to find the most efficient ways to strategize and solve problems. However, when I was conducting walk-throughs and quick check-ins, I didn't necessarily need to be at 100% energy. I just needed to observe, listen and reach out.. In fact, I found rejuvenation in these low energy actions as I observed my team working hard and getting positive results. 

My second question to you is: What takes up most of your energy? 

Communicating and connecting with other people takes energy. I remember being exhausted after leading open houses and facilitating trainings after a full workday. The energy it takes to connect is probably the same amount of energy needed to put out fires all day. This is a key issue. School leaders who spend all day dealing with immediate low-level issues are not able to dedicate the energy needed for important tasks such as strategy and relationship-building meetings with staff. Researching, making calls, sending emails, and trying to solve problems in a silo, uses up too much energy. In addition, it can give your staff the impression that important discussions regarding strategy and professional development are in fact not that essential. As the school year passes by and you find that staff initiative is stalling, you blame the teachers for not following the agreed protocol. However, in fact, this lapse is probably due to the fact that you did not have the time and energy needed to discuss these important items in detail to get the team on board.   

So, how do you avoid this daily energy drain?

Step 1: Make a list of the items you did today that drained your energy. Identify which items you can delegate to someone with stronger skills and more time than you? 

Step 2: Take a look at tomorrow’s schedule: 

  • When do you need to be at your best? 
  • Where can you be at 80%? 
  • Begin monitoring your actions throughout the day to identify how much time you need in between energy-consuming meetings and calls. 
  • Identify when you work at your best to block off that time for strategy and reflecting.

Once you have identified these elements, ask your administrative assistant to help schedule your day accordingly to avoid burning constant energy. 

 In addition, here are ten tips to help rejuvenate yourself:

  1. Start each day with an activity such as exercising, reading (not emails), yoga, meditation or simply taking a 30-minute walk.
  2. Identify your stress activities: Practice whole body breathing when these signs begin to appear. 
  3. Plan your day: Identify which parts of the day you need to be at 100% and which parts of the day you can conserve your energy. Give yourself 10 minutes between meetings to rejuvenate. 
  4. Eat healthier:  I took a nutrition course in 2013. I learned a great deal (portion sizes, the dangers of processed foods, and benefits to 30 minutes activity daily) physically had the best three years of my adult life. 
  5. Stop doing what drains you: Build a team that compliments one another  so you are not deeply engaged in all aspects of the organization.
  6. Nurture what inspires you: what fills your heart and gives you and the organization a great return. 
  7. Be vigilant with your time: manage your schedule; don’t let your schedule manage you. 
  8. Learn to say no: to gain significance, you need to learn how to say no to the good and to say yes to the great (you will be doing others a favor too). 
  9. Be sure to drink water: at least half your body weight (substitute ounces for  pounds). 
  10. Get to bed early: you need at least six to seven hours of sleep nightly.

Your friend,


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