It’s what you focus on that matters: Make it the right thing!


IMG_4982“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” George Lucas


Harvard’s Graduate School of Education offers professional education programing opportunities throughout the year. I was fortunate to participate in Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership through The Principals’ Center last Summer and I often reflect on that experience and the learning I gained. The experience was so multifaceted, dense with information, and profound that it has taken some time to internalize, express, and put into action. Learning at that level was engaging, inspiring, and forced me to look at education and leadership through many lenses. The stories that educators and experts from across the country shared in discussions were an essential component and contributed greatly to shifting my paradigms.


One particular event that was planned, as part of the learning, was a high ropes course. The placement of this learning was purposeful in that it took place on the second day of the program. As a group, we had only one day to meet and greet, listen to an overview of the program for the week and get a general frame and focus for the learning ahead. The next day we were divided into smaller learning teams and off we went to meet our high ropes course facilitator (leader). Some of us, including myself, embarked upon this day with some trepidation and questioned if we would be able to fully participate in all the obstacle course tasks, particularly the high ropes traverse, 40 feet in the air. I personally wondered how this activity applied to our purpose ‘Improving Schools and Leadership’?  That purpose was very quickly revealed to me: what we as leaders focus on matters in the outcomes we seek to achieve!  

Leadership doesn’t manage the whole process, it focuses on the most critical step.

When our facilitator was teaching us the process and various roles for climbing and traversing the high ropes, we all played a critical part.  We created a safe environment, encouraged the hearts of those who questioned their ability (ME!). This activity purposefully put us in a position of challenge, rigor, and dissonance (elements of learning) that absolutely propelled us forward. The facilitator simply explained the process and different roles and then during each person’s accent, focused on the most critical step, which was the person holding the belay and locking system carabiners. She steadfastly stood in front of this person and never took her eyes off the handling of the belay and tension in the line as the person ascended the tree and crossed the wire. If the belayer was not ready to lock the line or if there was too much slack, the climber would fall.  She verbally guided, reminded, questioned and positively encouraged us in our role. All the other roles people played, holding the rope, making sure it wasn’t tangled and serving as backup, managed themselves supported by the leaders trust. What critical step are you focused on as a leader?

Leadership focuses on perceived limits, it sets a safe environment to overcome & grow.

As I reflect on the terrifying experience I had climbing and crossing the ropes (my heart was racing, my mouth was dry, my head was pounding in my ears), I was literally soaring beyond my own perceived limits. I was brought to that moment through careful scaffolding, teaching, and team building artfully executed by our facilitator. How we create these opportunities for people to face their own limits and learn through them is critical to the change process because it affect behaviors not just thoughts. Are you aware of your organization’s perceived limits?

Learning is enhanced when we focus on the team’s experiences and authentic application.

Experiencing the climb up the tree and being able to traverse the ropes to the other side was only made possible for me because of the group encouragement and informed feedback they were freely providing me from the ground. My thinking was literally frozen by fear and I couldn’t even remember to put one foot in front of the other! My team was centrally focused on my success and could only offer their words of encouragement and direction. The rest was up to me as an individual to accept, trust, internalize and act upon their words if I so chose. Learning communities have a soul purpose and that is to inform in order to change. The team as well as each individual acts in unison around a shared goal. I may have been the one on the rope putting in the effort to cross but everyone on the ground also felt a sense of urgency and accomplishment when we collectively achieved our common goal; to get each member across successfully.  It was my personal achievement as well as our team success! Deep learning, the kind that last you a lifetime, that is an enduring skill does not happen in isolation.

I am proud to say that many of us are still in touch and continue to challenge, share, learn and push our professional growth through blogs, twitter chats and voxer. I am grateful to my professional learning network and friends!