LIVES: Leadership During School Shutdowns

LIVES Framework

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Every person needs to see themselves as a LEADER at this moment.  While there is value in a great follower, this moment also requires great leaders.  Whether you are a teacher, parent, school principal, headmaster, superintendent, or other staff member, this is a moment that calls for LEADERSHIP.   As we all stay at home and shut down business as usual to save lives, I thought this could be a good acronym for thinking about leadership at this moment.

See Yourself as a Leader

Leadership, quite simply, is the ability to lead or guide others.  While the definition is easily said, in action it can be difficult. Leadership encompasses sometimes having to guide people to take actions they don’t want to take.  It requires guiding people to take actions that may be good for a community but bad for them individually.  It means asking them to do things they are scared to do or lack the skills to do.

And often leadership is difficult because as the leader, you have to do the difficult things – take the actions you don’t want to take, find a way when there isn’t one, make difficult decisions, do things you lack the skills to do.

Yet having a leadership mindset is the first step in being ready to lead at this time.

If you don’t see yourself as a leader, you will struggle to realize that you are going to have to make decisions that don’t have an easy answer.  As I recently said in a meeting, “we’re optimizing among sub-optimal choices.”  That’s the reality for every person right now.  Whether you are a parent figuring out how to lead and support your family right now, a teacher, or otherwise.  Part of what I’m going to share are some steps you can take to lead.  But the first pre-requisite is that you have a leadership mindset.


Imagination is an important mindset and pre-requisite.  Some may need imagination to see themselves as a leader!  If you are typically a tactician, seeing yourself as a leader may require imagination.  But the other part of imagination you need is imagining a future state that is different from the current one.  If you are the type of person who is accustomed to going, going, going (which as educators, many of us are), what will help you get the imagination you need may be different from what you typically do to succeed.

To get the imagination you need, you may need to take time to take walks and reflect.  You’ll want to read some books.  You’ll want to fill your mind with competing ideas.  You’ll want to listen to the birds.  It almost sounds silly saying, but…


You’ll need to enter a space where your mind can free itself from the day to day you are accustomed to.  You’ll want to learn about other spaces and places and how they have adjusted.

You’ll want to listen to and learn from constituents and people who think differently from you.



Once you’ve taken a moment to imagine the future, now you can cast and share that vision.  The good news about this time is you really need a vision that is just 2-4 weeks, then 2-4 months, then 2-4 years.  This is such an uncertain time, and no one knows the future.


Even the experts admit they are only giving their best guesses.


But people need a vision.  So instead of waiting for having a vision for the year mapped out, have a vision for the next 2 weeks or month.  What is that going to look like?  What might that mean for what the next year may look like?  See some of our thoughts about what this looks like in the classroom here:


A vision and a goal, especially since your vision is short term, can be the same or similar.  Similar to having a short term vision, cast short-term goals.  What do you want to accomplish in the next 2 weeks?  What does success look like 1 week from now?  Help your team set those goals, and accomplish the goals.  Winning in the short-term will give the team greater confidence to win in the long term.

With so much that is uncertain and out of our control, seeing that we can still drive towards a successful outcome is more important than ever.



The next 3 areas are less sequential, and more circular:  Strategy, Execution, and Decisiveness.  The good news about seeing yourself as a leader and having a vision is you know where you want to go and lead your team.  Ideally, you have the time to really build out the strategy to your vision – but time is short, and a lot of times you may find that execution and strategy happen at the same time.

Strategy & Execution

While you are executing, you are learning enough to build the longer-term strategy.  In start-up and nonprofit world we call that “building the plane while you fly it”.  That of course sounds like a scary and unwise proposition.  But it can come with opportunities.  For example, in this metaphorical case, you are moving in the direction you need to go and building with real-time information about what you need to do.


Part of why execution can go before strategy in a time like this is because information is limited and things are changing quickly.


This only works when you have tight feedback and data loops such that once you start executing, you are able to use what you learn to feed back into the strategy.


The third leg of this stool is decisiveness.  In some ways, being decisive in a time like this is scary.  It seems like the stakes for being wrong or making the wrong decision is so big!  At the same time, there is also a price for not making a decision.

As is often said, not making a decision is also a decision.  It is a decision to continue the status quo, or go forward with nothing.  And as we know, in a time like this, business as usual is no business at all.


I have found that the best fuel for decisiveness is a peer group of leaders and a keen ear for listening.


A peer group of leaders gives you others who have previously tackled, or are currently tackling, what you are.  For me, this has been tapping into my friends who are also having to work while schooling their kids at home. This has been leaning into other folks leading education organizations, and start-ups.  This means learning from mentors and supporters and talking frequently to my team to learn what is top of mind for them.  This means making sure we are listening to our customers from multiple channels.  My ability to make decisions is stronger when I understand the context, the challenges, the risks and opportunities.  And that comes from listening.


I’ve already made imperfect decisions, questioned my decisions, and had to change course.  But the decisiveness gives me a path to start walking down and a valuable opportunity to learn.



Once you have put your LIVES or LIVED course in action, it’s important to COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE.  A friend of mine in the news business commented that the news cycle is changing on the hour.  We’re all experiencing some level of fear and anxiety, so we are hungry for comfort.  This hunger for comfort leads us to consume more media and information than typical.

This also means we need to break through more noise than usual to be able to share our messages and plans with our audiences.  So on the margin of over or under communicating, lean on overcommunicating.

If wondering about enlisting the perspective of others, overdo it instead of underdoing it.

People need your reassurance, they need to understand what you are doing and why.  They need you to help them make meaning of the world around them.  Whether this is your child, students you teach or lead, or staff, we’re all looking for leadership and want to hear from our leaders.



And lastly, don’t feel bad if you are having fun.  These are dark times and days.  Knowing that people are struggling to breathe and live, folks are losing their jobs, and our whole way of life has been uprooted, it can be hard to enjoy good times.

Joy can feel like a guilty pleasure.  But the reality is, leading can be fun.

Trying new things, learning new ways, can be fun.  So be thoughtful and giving and empathetic. Pray. Meditate. Donate. Contribute.  But also remember that even in times of crisis, the work can be fun.