Making Everyone Happy: The Unreal Mindset of a School Leader

Being a leader means that you have to make decisions, and in my five years as an assistant principal, I have gradually come to accept the fact that not everyone is going to like the decisions that I have to make. Here is my story in a nutshell along with three key criteria I have developed that help me make sound decisions for my school, while dealing better with the inevitable complaints.

When I first started as an assistant principal, I wanted to make everyone happy. But as the first year went on, even basic decisions that seemed simple to me sometimes left people feeling upset. I felt like I couldn’t win. No matter what I did, people would be upset. I even had people complain about the selection of free meal choices!

I struggled, and at times wanted to go back into the classroom and teach my third-grade students. When I taught, I didn’t have to deal with so many upset people, and the decisions I made never received the same type of backlash from 8-year-old children. What was I supposed to do?

At one point, I had a teacher approach me with a fantastic idea of hosting parent nights to inform parents what their children were learning and show them how to help with homework and studies. Since the idea addressed an important issue of parental involvement, I shared it at the next staff meeting and expected teachers to jump on board. But even before I had finished introducing the idea, half the staff had already grabbed their figurative torches and pitchforks to run me out of town. They looked at the idea as another task to complete, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to bridge the gap of school and home. In an effort to keep the peace, I put the parent nights idea on hold. But to be honest, at that point I had already decided to bury the idea rather than try to convince a hostile crowd.

Reflecting on that and other missed opportunities a year later, I began to look at the big picture and see what my main goal as a leader was. Was it to make decisions that would please everyone, or was it to make decisions that would push others to meet their potential and do what is best for kids?

I began to take time before making any decisions and see if the decision I was making was best for kids and best for our schools’ success. I also began to run my thoughts on specific decisions past individuals whom I trust and knew would give honest feedback.

Decisions are made only if they hit all 3 main criteria that I have set in place. Is the decision:

  • Research-based?
  • Centered in the school’s vision?
  • Best for students?

If the decision hits all three criteria, then let’s roll! If not, it’s back to the drawing board. When you make a decision through this process, you will feel more confident about your decisions and able to explain your reasoning to others.

Do I still have people upset and unhappy with my decisions? Sure I do. But the difference now is, I don’t take it personally, because my decisions are not personal. My decisions are no longer about what I feel is best for the school but instead what is best for the school.

So, leaders—be leaders. Don’t be afraid to make decisions, and do not be worried about making everyonehappy! Dive in and show your leadership skills. At times you will get a 9.8 on a dive and other times you will get a 3.7, but no matter the score your decision receives, you made one and you made it after making sure it was best for your school. That is the first step (or dive) into true leadership.

I end with a great quote that I heard a few years back, and it is so true: “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; drive an ice cream truck!” Those you lead might not light up with huge smiles and cheers every time they see and hear you—but they will know every time they see you that you are fair and have the best interests in mind when you make a decision for them, their students, and the school.

What decisions have you neglected to make because you knew it would upset some people? What steps could you have taken or still take to make sure that decision was best for your school? Who do you think you could choose to be on your “checks and balances” team because you know they would be honest with you?

Roger Gurganus is an assistant principal of Brownstown Middle School, a 6–7 building in Michigan. He has a passion for children and education and strives to ensure that every student is connected and feels part of the community he creates. He is the 2018 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @RogerGurganus.


  • Frank J Hagen says:

    I agree with roger’s reflections on his decision-making process, but would add does it make “common sense” together with the “research based” criterion. All too often, a school leader will consult research while ignoring the reality of the current situation such as the demographics of the school/community.

  • Charles Hoots says:

    Roger’s reflections were right on point. Making decisions that are best for students is the most important of his three keys. Roger is ready to manage his own building.

  • What a great reflection. I find the art of conversation about the decision to be the critical piece. We can walk away “disagreeing”, but often knowing the why can be the key piece. That requires a face to face conversation, not a text or email or “surprise”. Happiness is relative. Professionalism is a practice.

  • Dan Remenap says:

    My dad used to have a quote on the wall in his office…”The true test of any decision is not how many people it pleases but how many people it serves.” Always loved that, but I would add, not only “how many people it serves,” but WHO it serves. Another great litmus test.

  • Jeffrey T. McCabe says:

    Nice article about growth mindset as an administrator. I would however, make room for persons with a creative skill set and experience, to have the best for students criteria and the centered in school vision criteria teamed up with a gut feeling/intuition that has yet to be born out by research. In this way, true innovation that may be necessary at the moment does not have to wait for research to catch up.

  • Monica Wright says:

    In my new position I also find myself making decisions that staff does not like, so this blog definitely allowed me to reflect. I did like you way of thinking about why you make decisions and I try to do the same as it is hard to argue with decisions that are made using the criteria you suggested:
    Centered in the school’s vision?
    Best for students?”
    My issue is that most of the administrators do not want to make decisions that make teachers unhappy. So, unfortunately we do not use this criteria to make decisions as a whole but many times do what will not get as much backlash from teachers. This is very frustrating to those of us who are always trying to make decisions based on what is best for students.

  • Monica Wright says:

    In my new position as a teacher leader out of the classroom, I have been having to make many decisions that people do not like. So, your blog resonated with me and I use the same criteria for decision making. I find it is hard, not impossible, but difficult for educators to argue with decisions using those criteria. The issue is that most of the administrators at my school only want to make decisions that have the least amount of teacher backlash. Unfortunately, that means we are trying to make teachers happy instead of doing what is best for students. This is very frustrating to those of us who are student centered.

  • Jason Vislosky says:

    I love the line, “My decisions are no longer about what I feel is best for the school, but instead what is best for the school.” It’s a simple shift in thinking and makes it easier to have folks unhappy with the decision. If we always fall back on doing what is best for students, we can be sure it is the best decision.

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