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AN INWARD MINDSET. WHO KNEW?

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

My leadership teammates and I met for our annual 2-day retreat this past week to sharpen our organizational vision in our quest to be the best version of ourselves and the best version of what our organization can be. While it’s important to always look forward towards your organizational north star, it’s equally important to have a firm and confident grasp of where the organization is today. Why? Because the place between where an organization resides and where it aspires to be is what systems-thinkers like me consider to house the energy that generates the creative tension that inspires the level of creativity that is necessary to break through the institutional barriers that have historically confined education for myriad reasons.

Leadership guru Peter Senge proposed this concept for educators almost twenty years ago when he adopted his management theory to education in, Schools That Learn: Fifth Discipline Field Book for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. The approach has grown and flourished ever since, recognized as a useful and compelling framework for systemic reform in the education sphere.


OK, now for the stuff that really inspired this essay. We partnered with the Arbinger Institute to work with our leadership team on the “where are we now?” part of our journey. If you’re familiar with Arbinger, you know they have a laser-like focus on getting to the heart of the matter, so to speak. They specialize in developing organizational leadership capacity, one leader at a time. The variety of activities they design and facilitate are meant to expose tendencies, proclivities, and vulnerabilities, revealing the collective characteristics that undergird the foundational core of an organization. Arbinger introduced the concept of inward versus outward mindsets during this work. The concept is self-explanatory, though there are nuances that define it in clinical terms.

I confess. I exhibited some tendencies during the revelations that skew towards inwardness. Who knew!

Let me provide some context. I was in a fragile state. The realization that I might possess inward-thinking proclivities came on the cusp of my pronouncement a couple of weeks earlier that my imperfection (read Imperfection. Vulnerability. And Kantian Ideals) had garnered the attention of author, retired superintendent, and podcaster Peter Stiepleman, who invited me to share my expertise in leadership imperfection in an upcoming pod. I could only assume the transformational leadership podcaster was booked or somehow overlooked me (I jest, of course. I cherish my place in the pantheon of imperfect leaders and the privilege to be Dr. Stiepleman's guest). I'm imperfect by design. But still...


Imperfection aside, I also recently found out that I’m not a full-blooded Italian as I have been identifying as my entire life. Yes, it’s true! Historical records and DNA evidence unearthed a thinning of my bloodline along the way. Who wants to know? Not me (study genealogy at your own risk!). I blame my sister for this. She did the research (blame is a prime example of inward thinking, hence my confession) and shared it with me despite my objections to her perceived generosity.


Now, to come to terms with the realization that I have at least some tendencies that lean towards inward thinking, despite the fact that I have reached the top of my profession. The cognitive dissonance I’m experiencing is due to my self-perception that is in direct conflict with my new reality (full disclosure, I’m sure there may be people in my life, past or present, who knew this reality all along - feel free to respond to this piece).

While humbling, I was relieved to learn that inward thinking is not a fault or a character flaw, but instead a natural tendency that all people lean towards. The hard part is resisting and not falling prey to its seductive qualities.

How did I ever allow myself to be blind to the fact that I may not have been addressing the needs, challenges, and objectives of my colleagues to my fullest potential? My job as a superintendent is to support others in doing their jobs, in the collective interest of our organization. I guess I lost sight of what's important. While it happens, it's still inexcusable. I need to be better.


Consider this message a cautionary tale for everyone who gets lost in themselves from time to time. Refocus. Start again.


Let me know if I can help. I can share my humble pie with you over a cup of coffee and we can talk. I'd like that very much.

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