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After the Mic Drops

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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It still seems to be an accepted response continuing to receive a smile when someone makes a "drop the mic" comment in response to a profound activity, come-back, statement, or speech.  Although the phrase has recently gained popularity through its use by notable celebrities, the actual physical dropping of the mic started way back in 1980's by rappers and comedians.  

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There's got to be a high sense of accomplishment to say something so profound and definitive that it cannot be followed.  The ultimate show-stopper.  How could you not help but smile when you release the mic allowing gravity to do its thing?  There would be nothing left to do but walk off stage under the thunderous applause! 

But, what happens after the mic is dropped?

As a leader, we have to realize that, at some point, we will need to bow out and walk off stage.  Leaders may move to another classroom.  Another school.  Another district.  Retire. 

We begin our careers building our knowledge, expanding our influence, and growing ourselves to help others.  We are so focused on the tasks at hand that it is sometimes hard to look into the future.  Early in my career as a leader, I was able to witness a devastating chain of events that had a profound effect in how I think about the initial work in everything I do.  

A leader had brought a professional development initiative to his district.  He was articulate and passionate in implementing the initiative throughout the whole district.  It became the single professional development focus for 4 years across the district.  Not only were district dollars invested in the initiative, but he was able to bring state and federal dollars to increase the work and become a "lighthouse" across the state with the initiative.  A lot of people were in favor of it and followed the leaders guidance at every step.  In the district's fifth year of the initiative, the leader retired.  In spite of the millions of dollars and time invested in the initiative, it disappeared almost immediately.  

I watched in amazement and disbelief that something like that could be erased in a matter of weeks.  It has become a sobering reminder to me in my philosophy and approach to leadership.  In order to ensure you are prepared for the post-mic drop, here are 3 Points to Keep in Mind Before You Drop the Mic:

#1 - Invest in People, Not Initiatives.

Over and over, I have observed leaders caught up in developing the initiative, rather than developing the people around them.  For things to last, we have to build capacity among others who not just continue the initiative after we leave, but believe in it and have the ability and desire to advance the initiative.  Don't just share the initiative's plan, work to create a sense of shared core beliefs that will harness the true power behind it.

#2 - Don't Make the Initiative About You.

An ultimate goal of a leader should be for the initiative to become part of the school's culture.  While it may sound innocent or a compliment for an initiative to be associated with the leader, such as "Bob's Initiative" or "Susan's Idea", but this can have harmful effects.  While the leader may have introduced it initially to the team, for it to be associated with a person tends to draw a connection that if the person is gone, so is the initiative.  If the work is the right work, it should stand on its own merits.

#3 - Walk Away Slowly.

Real leadership is not like the movies where the hero arrives, fixes things, and leaves into the night.  While some leaders may feel awkard saying good-bye at the end, being in denial without an explicit and clearly communicated exit plan is harmful to everyone.  Instead of treating your final moment as a magician's disappearing act, think about it as chef stepping back from a six foot, extravengant cake tower that the team just created to make sure it can stand on its own.

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  • Guest
    Jonathon Wennstrom Saturday, 04 February 2017

    Excellent post Neil!! I have seen this happen several times where the imitatives leave with the leader. I've had this fear at my own building as well. Are they "my initiatives" or "our initiatives"? It's easy to get caught up in great ideas and forget that it's about the people. Thank you for the reminder!
    Jon

  • Neil Gupta | @drneilgupta
    Neil Gupta | @drneilgupta Sunday, 05 February 2017

    Thanks, Jonathon. The more I work, I realize, regardless of the vocation, it's all about relationships.

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Guest Sunday, 23 July 2017