Summer is a great time for a school leader. While we may not have the "summer off" the slower pace of the summer months allow time for the 3Rs that are essential practices of a leader: Resting, Reflecting, and Refocusing.
Rest is essential for maintaining our capacity to lead. We need to recharge from long days engaged in presentations, conferences, parent and staff meetings, board meetings, interviews, attending chapels, concerts, plays, sporting events, honors programs, commencements, ad infinitum. Then there are the hundreds of phone calls and several thousand emails. Working 14-16 hour days most days is spiritually, mentally, and physically exhausting.
Finding time to rest can be difficult. According to a report by Leadership Advance the average number of daily work hours among America’s leaders has risen by 22% since 2,000, resulting in an average working week of 56-60 hours, leaving precious little time for needed rest. Increasingly, success in leadership characterizes a life comprised of grueling expectations, excessively long hours and instant accessibility both on and away from the job.
Rest is not mere idleness, although idleness has its place and merits. The rest I have in mind is a rest comprised of a slower more controlled focus on essential matters free from the distractions of the urgent, constant interruptions, and the relentless siren call of our mobile devices. It is a deliberate, calm, distraction free period of quiet reflection upon one's life, family, and school.
Reflection is critical to leadership effectiveness. Leaders must reflect on his or her leadership style, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and the current and desired future state of their schools. As defined by the American Nurse Today, reflective thinking is "both an internal and external process that promotes self-understanding and improved critical thinking skills. It is essentially a form of inner work that results in the energy for engaging in outer work (emphasis added). It is also a meaningful and necessary activity for knowing what is important to oneself and in one’s practice or organization."
Refocusing is possible only with rest and reflection. The mind must be settled and calm in order to regain focus. Focus enables the leader to distinguish between the genuinely important from the mere urgent and immediate. Refocusing is the ability to filter out the many lesser concerns and issues so that laser focused attention can be directed on the essential and most important aspects of our personal and professional lives. Refocusing is the art of recognizing that less is more in our leadership when we concentrate on those few things that will have the biggest impact on our lives and schools.
Rest, reflection and refocusing require distraction free time, space, and quiet. The summer months provide time, space, and quiet for reflection IF one takes advantage of them.
For most of us, we are freshest and sharpest early in the morning after a good nights sleep. Start your summer days early. Reserve the early morning hours for prayer, Bible reading and quiet reflection. It is also a good time to write. Writing by its nature is a reflective exercise. Whether writing in a journal, writing an article, a reflective memo to your staff, or starting your book, writing forces the mind to focus and consider.
Spent time on candid self reflection. This need not be self-flagellation for real or imagined shortcomings. Rather, use this time to focus on the state of your soul and how you can leverage your strengths and minimize your weaknesses to enhance your relationships, leadership, and school.
Find your quiet place to rest, reflect, and refocus. For me my screened-in back porch is ideal. It is removed from the hustle and bustle of home life, it is serene overlooking a backyard surrounded by trees and cool and warm enough to be used most months of the year. When the weather becomes too hot or cold I retreat to my study.
When was the last time you sat for an hour with nothing more than your thoughts? Quiet is essential for rest, reflection, and refocusing. It is also essential for deep thinking and creativity. When your mind is distracted (the human mind is very poor at multitasking) you cannot give undivided attention to reflection and purposeful focusing on the essential things in your personal and professional life.
The greatest sources of noise are our electronic devices. To benefit the most from your 3Rs, you must disconnect from the constant distraction and pull of emails, text messages, and social media. Turn off all electronic distractions including TV and music. It is liberating and peaceful.
How will you spend your summer: vacations, yard work, preparing for a new year, travel, your long over due "honey-do" list? All of good uses of your summer months. I encourage you to include periodic time for the 3Rs. You will be more rested, more grounded, and better prepared to lead during the hectic days of a new school year.
If you will spend a few hours every week over the summer on the 3Rs you will add the fourth "R", Recharged!