Recently, I had the chance to catch up with a colleague from a previous school district who I hadn’t seen for years. While drinking coffee and catching up about our families and life, I asked him about his recent change in positions at a new school district last year. Suddenly, his head lowered and his eyes scanned the inside of his empty coffee cup. Barely opening his mouth, he quietly murmured, “My goal next year will be to stay under the radar”.
Although I could have asked him to disclose details on why he would have said that, I knew that wouldn’t have accomplished anything to help him. Instead, I asked him what he thought that would accomplish. This question allowed for a better, richer dialogue to see how I could help coach him up.
His eyes looked up, and placed his coffee cup on the table. With a small smile peeking through his mouth, he admitted that he wasn’t truly sure. He guessed that it would be better if he kept his head down low and stayed quiet around his peers due to some missteps from the year before and some negative feedback he received on his performance. As he restated his initial plan to just “fly under the radar”, he began to doubt the merits to this idea.
“Flying under the radar” doesn’t work in leadership. It isn’t designed to improve relationships or situations that involve leading. “Flying under the radar” is a term used by military aircrafts avoiding RADAR detection by enemy forces. School leaders aren’t in the military. And your colleagues aren’t your enemy. If you feel you’re in a place where you want to “fly under the radar” due to some negative experiences or feedback, consider these “5 Strategies to Pull Up For Success”.
Pull Up #1: Connect With Your Squad
Although it may feel like it makes sense to keep your head down and isolate yourself from others until the “heat is off”, connecting with your colleagues is even more necessary. Regardless of how much you want to share about your personal emotions, it’s important to talk with others, make connections, and continue building positive relationships with them. Build time having coffee with a colleague, go out with the team in social settings, or host something yourself. Don’t just sit quietly in the corner trying to get through the meeting, but arrive early, take an active role in dialogue, contribute, and connect with others.
Pull Up #2: Find the Open Sky
The sky is vast. Feel free to move around and look for places, events, and opportunities that build your excitement and give you a place to fly freely. Take the time to explore and look for things that you find empowering and use that to fly even higher. Use a hobby or interest to connect with a group of students or staff, begin a new tradition or initiative, create and advise a club that brings you joy, or make time to visit more classrooms or schools.
Pull Up #3: Review Your Pre-Flight Plan
It’s easy to run over the negative scenarios like a reoccurring movie in your head. Instead of allowing yourself to play that over and over, reframe and refill your mind with experiences and memories where you were successful. I have a small file of pictures and cards from previous students and staff members who thanked me for the impact I had in their life. It helps to go through them every once in a while to remind myself of the difference I’ve made in the past as a way to motivate myself of the potential I can give in the future.
Pull Up #4: Lean On Your Wingman
While it may feel embarrassing to share your frustrations, struggles, or perceived failure with someone else, having a close friend you can confide in is crucial. The person can live in another state or work in another district. The person doesn’t even have to be in the same vocation. The person doesn’t have to be older or wiser. All you really need is someone who is a good listener and encourager.
Pull Up #5: Look for Corrective Feedback
After my friend kept talking about the negative feedback he received, I asked him whether any of it was helpful to make him or his students and staff better. After a long pause, he began re-examining the negative feedback and found things he could put in place to improve. Although the sting of what wasn’t going well was tough for him to hear, I pointed out the need to stop looking at it as “negative” feedback. Instead, he should look at it as “corrective” feedback with an opportunity to improve. Anytime we are given another chance, we can use the feedback to move us forward if we choose.
I will be the first to admit these 5 strategies aren’t magic, that implementing them won’t be easy, or that they won’t always make it better right away. But, I can easily defend the notion that “flying under the radar” isn’t helpful and won’t solve anything. So, if you are thinking about “flying under the radar”, don’t!
If you are flying above the radar, great work! And, be on the look-out for others who might need help pulling up!