Guest Post: Pivotal Leadership

This is a guest post by Justin Baeder, Director of The Principal Center. He writes about productivity for school leaders at


We all want to improve student learning in our schools.

We want to achieve better results, create better opportunities for students, and help everyone—students, teachers, parents—have the best possible experience every day.

So where should we focus our improvement efforts?

I believe we should start with ourselves, because we have the most control over our own actions.

And as leaders, we have enormous leverage. The impact of improvements in our own effectiveness can be huge.

The Dangers of Being Pivotal
The principalship is a “pivotal” role, and pivot points are always points of stress.

Action figure

If you ever played with action figures when you were a kid—the kind with moving arms and legs—and played hard enough to sometimes break them, you know where they tend to break.

They break at the pivot points.

If we want to be leaders who get things done—figures of action, if you will—we have to understand what it means to play a pivotal role. Leadership creates both powerful opportunities and enormous strains.

The Hub Is Also The Bottleneck
At some level, everything that happens in your school runs through you.

Perhaps when you hired the person making the decision…

Perhaps when you delegated responsibility to a team…

Perhaps when you saw—or failed to see—something happening, and chose to say something (or not).


Once we accept that we’re the bottleneck for everything, we have to ask ourselves: What can I do to get around my limitations?

I don’t believe it means working harder, staying later, and placing ourselves under even more pressure.

(You certainly don’t need more stress in your life.)

I believe it means building our personal capacity by putting systems in place for high-performance workflow.

Higher Capacity for Higher Performance
If we want to have a greater impact on student learning, we have to increase our capacity to handle the work of leadership.

I don’t simply mean handling it with greater expertise and wisdom (which are, of course, crucial). I don’t mean using “research-based” strategies (which is undoubtedly a good idea).

I mean our ability to simply keep up with the ever-increasing pace of our work, to keep it under control and to be able to make good decisions about how to spend our time.

If you can’t find time to do your most important work, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Capacity is our fundamental constraint, and thus a powerful place to focus our improvement efforts.

A 4-Part Series
I have quite a bit more to share on this topic, so I’ve prepared a 4-part video series called High-Performance Instructional Leadership. In this series, I’ll walk you through what I believe are the highest-leverage ways to stay on top of your work and accomplish more in less time.

Registration is free, and the videos are short. You can put them into practice right away, so I’d urge you to take these steps even—especially—if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

You can connect with Justin Baeder via Twitter @eduleadership or through his website The Principal Center or blog at

Now It’s Your Turn:
What are some tasks you are managing right now in your school leadership where you feel overwhelmed or challenged? Reply here, and let’s share ideas on how we can find lasting solutions.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker