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What We Know For Sure: Three Practices Every Innovative Leader Can Try

What We Know For Sure: Three Practices Every Innovative Leader Can Try

Innovative Leadership  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

"We all get caught up in the business of doing, and sometimes lose our place in the flow” (O Magazine, August 2011).

Recently, we were spinning in circles trying to figure out a new process for an internal role we stepped into when Jason shared a way we might reframe our conversation. Shifting from trying to brainstorm as many solutions as possible or uncovering the perfect idea, we instead focused on the simple, yet powerful question: “What do we know for sure?” 

This reflection has been a part of the extraordinary Oprah Winfrey’s practice after she found herself stumped when asked the question by the late Gene Siskel. While it might not turn into a monthly column or book deal for the rest of us, this question works for several reasons. In asking what we know for sure, we create a moment to stop, pause, and reflect on the pieces that are constant in order to shape what comes next. 

An innovative leader can recognize the right moment to stop, pause and reflect, and uses specific practices to recognize what they already have in order to step up to the challenge at hand. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, where you think you are going, what job or career you have had, or think you should have. You are not too late, and you are not too early. Understanding where you are will help you build your way forward.” (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Designing Your Life). When we think things are uncertain, we might find ourselves spinning amongst all the unknowns and the possibilities. When things are complex we may jump into “survival mode” and hyper-narrow our focus. 

Check out our guide to Innovative Leadership Development to explore our leadership competencies.

Innovative Leadership Development for School Districts: The complete guide to developing more innovative educational leaders.

As we asked ourselves what we knew for sure when it came to this particular project, we remembered that what we know is that people are curious and want to learn, as well as have opportunities to reflect on their own work as leaders. Guided by what we know for sure, we want to share some ideas on how to bring this work to your teams.

Here are three small habits we are building over the coming weeks to help us better understand how personal experiences, values, and strengths impact the way we lead during these complex times.

Focus on potential

Repurpose time on an upcoming agenda so you and your team can check-in and share what you know for sure about the purpose, the outcomes, + each other. Asking the simple, direct question of “What do we know for sure about ___?” can refocus and center the conversations in a time of doubt and uncertainty. 

Practice with purpose

As a leader, one way you can support your team with not forgetting who they are and who they want to be is by modeling the importance of learning, reflecting, and growing, especially during times of crisis. At Education Elements, we share one resource aligned to one of our Leadership Competencies each week in our internal Slack channel through a quick video–we might highlight an article that we’ve known and loved that we want to resurface or something new based on trends we are hearing across the team.

Share with pride

Sharing what you know for sure, especially when all of the answers aren’t figured out can be a powerful way to learn, for both the person asking and the person sharing. When we get comfortable with sharing the challenges we are facing and acknowledging we don’t have all the answers it shifts our individual journey to a collective journey. This week, set a goal to share what you know for sure in at least two different conversations. Unsure how to try it out? Try this frame: “Something I am learning about right now is _____. I am grappling with _____ and I know for sure _____.”

While we can’t give you all of the solutions to the challenges you are facing, what we know for sure is the power of focusing on potential, practicing with purpose, and sharing with pride. Be on the lookout for our upcoming series: What We Know For Sure, where we will ask one of our team members or district partners what they know for sure. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know what you know for sure as you prepare yourself and your team for a school year like no other.

Check out our Learning Now Series with resources for leaders and teachers to guide an innovative approach to distance learning and equity in the new school year.

Learning Now: Distance Learning & Equity in the New School Year | A Webinar & Resource Series for Educators & K-12 Leaders

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