A journalist once asked me what I wanted my legacy to be. I responded that my legacy will be decided by others after I am no longer here. My sincere hope is that, in short, my legacy will be that during my time on this Earth, I was relevant.
In many ways, we are seeking relevance in our lives. When something is “relevant,” it matters. Its relevance is clear. Relevance is simply the noun form of the adjective “relevant,” which means “important to the matter at hand.” Someone without relevance might be called “irrelevant.” Which one are you? What does relevance look like? For each of us, it will likely look different. No two individuals are here to be exactly alike, to have the same impact, to accomplish the same goals, to make a difference in the same way with others.
A student reporter once inquired, “Do you have any regrets in your life?”. As I thought about it, I quickly responded, no. You see, every experience I have had, both positive and negative, has taught me a valuable lesson. Most importantly, however, I believe the most important lessons I have learned are about working with other people. And I knew that if I wanted to make a difference, to be relevant, I had to consider the five key principles that John Maxwell shares in understanding the people we interact with.
- Everybody wants to be somebody
- Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care
- Everybody needs somebody
- Anybody who helps somebody influences a lot of somebodies
- Today, somebody will rise up and become somebody
Recently, a woman I know, who happens to be the same age as me, went to the hospital to find out why she was not feeling well, why she just had a seizure. If you knew her, you could quickly list pages of the amazing qualities she possesses, both personally and professionally. What the doctors found was shocking and couldn’t possibly be real. She had a brain tumor, it was big, it was aggressive, and it was serious. The doctors quickly scheduled a biopsy to learn more and determine what to do about it. However, within hours of the biopsy, the tumor became vengeful and her family had to make a decision. Let her die, or let them operate on her brain…not knowing what she might be like after she woke. For them it was an easy decision, operate!! Many hours later they would learn that the doctors were only able to remove 60% of the tumor and had to take a significant portion of her frontal lobe to do so. The tumor would continue to grow. Weeks later they would learn that it was a Stage 3 tumor…much better than the Stage 4 that it could have been.
It’s amazing what perspective gives us. While the prognosis is still that she will have a shortened time on this earth, odds are she will be here longer than originally believed. And she plans to make a significant difference during that time. What will it take for you to make a difference, to be relevant? A life altering medical diagnosis, a tragedy, or a conscientious decision?
A couple of years ago, I was asked to calculate the number of days I have left using a general formula in a book called The Five Book. I was very surprised to learn, statistically, I have fewer days in front of me than I do behind me. And while that may be true, the greater lesson is the title of the activity: Every Day Matters: Live every day as if it’s your last…because one day you’ll be right.
There is a reason why our eyes were placed on the front of our face. We were meant to look forward The days behind us can never be changed, modified, re-lived, or erased. However, the remainder of today, and all of your tomorrows, have yet to be written.
As you ponder that thought, do recall ever hearing the phrase: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Believe me, growing up with the last name of Butts, I heard it it alot. And I’m here to tell you that it is a load of hooey. Words are one of the most powerful tools we have. It’s why those who are voracious readers are significantly more likely to succeed. They have opened themselves up to the knowledge and experiences that each page contains. As an example, let me reinforce how important our words are with this piece I recently came across by an unknown author.
The six most important words: ‘I admit that I was wrong’
The five most important words: ‘You did a great job’
The four most important words: ‘What do you think?’
The three most important words: ‘Could you please. . .’
The two most important words: ‘Thank you’
The most important word: ‘We’
The least important word: ‘I’
If we are to be relevant, we must continue to develop our skills and put them into practice. Jim Rohn shared keys toward become a person of quality yourself. These keys are critical to our future success:
Learn to be strong but not rude.
Learn to be kind but not weak.
Learn to be bold but not a bully.
You’ve got to learn to be humble, but not timid.
Be proud but not arrogant.
Develop humour without folly.
I believe the most important lessons I have learned are about working with other people. The path I have chosen to do so is as a Superintendent. But leadership is not about degrees, titles, bureaucracy, or a hierarchy. Leadership is so much more.
I have known many leaders in my lifetime. All of which I have learned valuable lessons from. I have learned about success and failure and what I should and should not do. Probably the most valuable lesson I have learned is that you can’t lead if no one will follow.
Some of you may know Dr. David Dresslar. David retired as executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis. Before joining CELL in 2004, David served as superintendent of schools in Jenison, Michigan, for 17 years and, prior to that, in a variety of teaching and administrative positions including assistant superintendent for the M.S.D. of Lawrence Township in Indianapolis. In October, 2014, he took a leave of absence from (CELL) to fight advancing leukemia. David had time to reflect on many things and during that time shared his 10 principles of leadership with me and others. These principles were developed through David’s experiences:
- Lead by valuing people
- Lead by providing security
- Lead by giving the benefit of the doubt
- Lead by forgiving
- Lead by giving away the credit
- Lead by taking the blame
- Lead by being decisive
- Lead by delegating, and to of the most important in my mind,
- Lead through integrity
- Lead through honesty
We are in the final weeks of the 2017-18 school year, a truly great school year in Indiana. Your leadership is a significant factor in the accomplishments others have achieved and the accolades they are receiving. Be proud of the role you played in each graduate earning their diploma as you hand it to them during the upcoming ceremony. The Superintendent’s job is the greatest job ever! And lastly, as you move forward, BE RELEVANT AND BE AWESOME!!