Guest post by Bobby Dodd
I will always remember the first leadership book I read as an administrator. I had recently read Diane Coutu’s piece, “Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln” in the Harvard Business Review, discussing the greatest leadership characteristics of Lincoln. As I began to do more research on Lincoln and read more about his legacy, my wife purchased the book Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips. I can still remember the stories from Lincoln’s days as president and the knowledge I gained on leadership throughout the book.
One of the stories and leadership lessons in Phillips’ book has always stood out to me through the years. Lincoln rarely let his emotions get the best of him. There were times when he was frustrated with members of his cabinet and wanted to vent to let them know he was upset. To add to his frustrations, Lincoln couldn’t just pick up a phone and speak to his cabinet. As we know, in those days, a great deal of communication occurred using written letters or telegrams, not using email, texts, or Snapchat.
Lincoln would often write letters to his cabinet members to express his displeasure with them. He would take the time to write a letter, seal it, and put it in his desk or leave it on top. Years after Lincoln passed away, dozens of sealed, unopened letters were found. Lincoln never sent the letters to his staff. He used the power of time and reflection to alter his decision making on sound leadership practices to help his staff get better instead of leading by emotion.
I always made it a point to not let my emotions get the best of me when speaking with students, staff, and stakeholders. I take the time (even if it means waiting until the next day) to think through situations and make decisions based on my leadership principles rather than my emotions.
Three Ways Reading Defines Us as Leaders
As leaders, we need to take the time to read books, blog posts, magazines, and websites, and listen to podcasts to learn more about leadership. One of my favorites is John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. In this work, Maxwell writes “Leaders are readers”—one of my favorite quotes—to make the point that he as a leader is constantly reading to hone his craft. As leaders, we need to make a point to model lifelong learning. Leaders need to read (and listen) in order to:
1. Grow as a Leader
Reading and listening provides us the opportunity to get better. I find pleasure in reading books and magazines on education, leadership, business leadership, and innovation to find new strategies to utilize. I enjoy participating in Twitter chats and other forms of social media to see what others in our profession are reading. Try to focus on reading one book a month, listening to one podcast a week, or reading two magazines a month to help you improve as a leader.
Books such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People, Todd Whitaker’s Shifting the Monkey, and Peter Dewitt’s Collaborative Leadership are just a few to get you started. Magazines and sites such as www.inc.com, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Make: are also good resources that will expand your thinking and engage your creative process in leadership.
2. Help Others Grow
Helping others is an integral part of leadership. Reading allows us to share the knowledge we gain with others. Sharing allows us to provide coaching to others and help them improve their teaching and leadership. In the end, sharing this knowledge will benefit education as a whole.
3. Reflect on our Work
Reflection is a lost art in leadership. Reading helps us reflect on what we have done and how we can improve our leadership decisions. I enjoy reading books and blog posts, and listening to podcasts where I can see and hear what others have done in different situations, which allow me to visualize how I can handle similar situations and make improvements.
We are constantly learning as leaders. With the abundance of resources that exist, we need to take full advantage of them to continue our growth. While time is a precious commodity, we have to make the time to become better leaders. Managing our time better to create reading and listening opportunities will not only improve our roles as leaders, but also help our districts, buildings, and, ultimately, our students grow.
What resources can you share that help you “read to succeed” as a leader?
Bobby Dodd is principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School outside of Columbus, OH. He encourages educational leaders to focus on Connecting, Collaborating, Confidence, and Creativity. He is the 2016 NASSP National Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @bobby__dodd.