Build the Bench

Every leader needs a back-up plan. Yes, as leader you are ultimately responsible but isn’t it nice to know that there are some people who can step up and share the load? Too many times, leaders are carrying the weight of the entire organization (or team) on their shoulders. When you think about how you lead (or- how you live your life), is it with a back-up plan, a support system, or are you trying to do it all alone?

In sports, this is referred to as “building the bench”. You know, when you have five stars on your basketball team and as the year progresses, they are injured or just worn out. They welcome a chance to sit out a few minutes or a game and they are comfortable doing this when the “bench” can step in. If you have been a Toronto Raptors’ fan as long as I have, you know what I mean. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanFleet need the bench to step in now and then and give them much needed breaks. They cannot carry the team on their shoulders every game. Even though they are the leaders on the floor (and, most likely off the floor), they count on the bench. The coaches have wisely ensured that there are players who, even though they do not play every night, they can be counted on to understand what they have to do when they get a chance. They become part of the success of the team in reaching goals that have been set. These players have been included in all training, practices and completely understand the culture of the organization, vision and expectations. They have been part of every aspect of the team from day one.

In schools/districts and business, this is a shared leadership model. It is the intentional steps that you, as leader, take to “build your bench”. Who will be part of a guiding coalition/leadership team? What will be the focus of the work of this team and how will you consistently build common understanding of the expected outcomes? These are some of the questions that you can consider as you build your bench.

If you are a district or school leader reading this, it is a great time to consider how you will create a shared leadership model for the next school year. As a school improvement coach, I can honestly tell you that it is one step that is often missed by many educational leaders. I know that for many principals, it feels like one more thing that has to be be done and it sometimes seems that it might just be easier to do the work yourself rather than to take the time to build common understanding and share the work with others. I get this… I just don’t agree that it is the best way to lead your school or district.

Once you select your guiding coalition/leadership team, it is time to plan how you will work together. Meeting at least once a month (twice is better) to focus on building a strong collaborative culture, aimed at improving learning and results, is what the work is about. Getting clear on “tight expectations” so everyone knows what the role of the “bench” is will be important. This team can learn together, problem-solve with you and most importantly, help facilitate the important work of school improvement. It is critical that you establish the team that you need. Select and build a team based on the expertise of your staff. Consider how you want this team to lead collaboration and a focus on student learning throughout the school. One template that I recommend to you as you reflect on who should be part of a leadership team is

I strongly recommend that you reflect on what your vision is for the next school year and what team you need to get you there. This has been a difficult year for school and district leaders everywhere. I know, for a fact, that leaders who had strong shared leadership plans in place feel a little less tired and overwhelmed right now. It has still been a challenging year but they have not done the work alone.

As I continue to watch the Toronto Raptors this year, (yes, it is a difficult year to watch),I am grateful that their coaching staff understand that sharing the leadership load, especially when times are tough, is a better strategy than someone doing all the heavy lifting alone. Consider this as your next step as you prepare for 2021-2022.

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