Updated: Jan 14
I don’t need to understand my leadership style, I need help leading! Leading people can be exhausting. It’s like performing a juggling act in the dark where no one gets to watch, only comment on the ending when they hear a ball drop. Do you have feelings of being overwhelmed, under-appreciated, or burnt out? Well, mindset is a powerful tool and should not be overlooked.
I recently read the book, Be the Manatee Affirming Advice for Your Leadership Journey, and found that even though I am not leading a school or district, it still applied to me, because we all lead, don’t we? On the most basic level, we lead ourselves. We interact with people and how we see ourselves in different relationships can effect the outcome of events.
Authors Dr. Carla L. Sparks and Dr. Sarah T. Lukas, use animal metaphors for leaders to gain perspective on their current practices, find positivity, and continue to grow with a new toolbox full of mindsets. They describe the purpose of their book as a way “to lift you up when you find you need some advice on your leadership journey.” Why is this helpful? It helps to understand what we are doing and why. So many answers to life’s questions can be found by observing nature. My personal favorite is Velcro. The fact that someone found a purpose for the annoying hooks of the hitch hiker plants like cockleburs is impressive. It helps me understand that there is a purpose and something to be learned from even the smallest events, like burs getting stuck to my clothing.
Be the Manatee uses twelve animal metaphors intended to describe specific styles of leading and Sparks and Lukas tell their personal stories to relate to each. What’s nice is how simply it’s laid out. The story telling is easy to read and relate to.
The book starts with the manatee because this is how the concept started. Lukas found solace in the idea of being a manatee while in a particularly stressful leadership situation. She felt verbally attacked and threatened by proverbial sharks who were against an initiative she was launching. When thinking about how there are no natural predators for the manatee and as herbivores they do not prey upon others (she lives in Florida), she found an inner peace. The calming affect was almost instant. When she placed herself as a manatee mentally, and thought “be the manatee,” she was able to reduce her anxiety and focus on the task at hand because even though the sharks looked threatening, they did not actually hurt her. Sometimes a simple mind shift is all that is needed to help you move forward!
While you may not be able to see yourself in all the animals, you may have experienced them at different points in your career and its effects are worth examining. At the end of each animal chapter, there is a section to reflect. Reflection is a key factor to change.
In a recent podcast interview with Dr. Sparks, she emphasized how as a professor in educational leadership she focuses on change leadership, because change is constant. We want to continually strive to improve education, so leaders need to know how to lead change in their institutions. Additionally, Dr. Sparks recommended four things to focus on while becoming a leader of change:
1. Do your homework on leading! Read the great authors on leading and make sure you understand what that requires of you.
2. Know who you are and what your skill sets are. You can be a greater leader if you surround yourself with people who have other skill sets that compliment yours.
3. Remove barriers to clear the path so that others can do the good work they intend to do.
4. Celebrate the small wins. People need to celebrate to build momentum.
If you want to learn more about leadership styles or ways to understand and improve your leadership practices, read the book, Be the Manatee Affirming Advice for Your Leadership Journey, and listen to Shaping Educational Leaders as a Professor with Dr. Sparks on The Brighter Side of Ed. podcast (https://www.buzzsprout.com/2048018/11559137). Doing nothing never helps. Doing something always does something. So find your skill set, shift your mind, and embrace change you wild animal leaders!