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Lone Wolf or Pack Leader?

Howling Wolves


The past years have seen a change from the “lone wolf leader” who is identified by their multi-tasking, micro-managing, and one-sided discussions to the “pack leader” who is identified by their commitment to their group; maintaining leadership because of their ability to meet the needs of their “pack” and providing their pack with what they need to be successful.  The result is a stronger emphasis on team building and on using team effectively.

Food for Thought

Susan A. Wheelan and Jan Kesselring in their paper “Link between Faculty Group Development and Elementary Student Performance on Standardized Tests” (The Journal of Educational Research July/August 2005) shared this conclusion from their research:

“Our results suggest that one strategy that could be used to improve student learning and performance is to facilitate the development of high functioning faculty groups…On the basis of our results and the findings from other industries, as these faculty groups and teams increase their effectiveness, productivity also will increase.”

Our findings suggest that although staff size, rural or urban location, and district poverty level do influence student outcomes, the manner in which faculty members work together as a group also is influential, particularly in high poverty schools. Professional educators have minimal or no control over school or district demographics.  However, teachers and administrators have significant control over the way the work as a group. The results of this study suggest that if faculty members work to become more trusting, cooperative and work oriented as a group, student performance will improve.”

As with a lot of research or good ideas, we read it and say, “Well, of course.”  Success is found in the implementation of the idea, not the idea itself.

Play nice together

As with so many simple concepts, they are easy to identify, but not always easy to implement.  Consider Mr. Gerard, a principal of an elementary school that was hovering between students performing at the basic level and under-performing.  His staff is comprised of seasoned teachers and new teachers. More than the difference in years, the difference in how they perceived their roles and how they approached those roles were different.  The more seasoned educators were steeped in years of teaching (with many experiencing success), while the newer teachers were closer to being digital natives and exploring their own methods.  The more seasoned were used to operating as single units that met with peers, but the purpose of the meetings was to collect new information and hear about policies and processes. The younger members used texting and emails to communicate. 

The challenge was how to bring them together in a common forum.  Mr. Gerard’s answer was creating teams. He searched for the most effective way to do just that.

People before things

Effective Leaders put people first. Mr. Gerard learned this over the past five years.  When he first came to the school he had presented his vision and ideas and although they were met with polite agreement in meetings, that polite agreement did not transform into action.  He learned he needed to take the time to listen to his people, to hear their concerns (problems) and their ideas (solutions) and to create a continuous cycle of monitoring and feedback. He needed to put people before things.

He learned people follow people, not processes, rules, procedures or grand plans.  As he built relationships and people accepted him as leader, they accepted his vision.  They began to buy in, because the trusted him. 

The lesson learned? If you are not developing people, you are not building teams!

How and who to pick

Remember when you were in school or you were hanging out with friends getting ready to play a game. Two captains were picked and they alternated turns choosing their team.  How did they decide? They KNEW their friends-who was good at what sport and who was not and what positions they played the best.  This lesson from the playground still holds true.  Leaders need to know their people—their strengths and weaknesses. 

One of the first things Mr. Gerard realized was that he had to build on his existing relationships.  He explored those and identified which of his relationships were strong.  Here are the criteria he used:

  • Ongoing two-way communication
  • Honest exchange of ideas in which there was room for healthy disagreement
  • An openness to learning new things
  • The courage to be the first in trying something new
  • Staff that had a proven track record of expertise in the focus of the team being formed (backed by data)
  • Teacher leaders that helped others and shared information
  • A healthy mix of people that represented multiple sides of an issue

5 Steps to Develop Teams

Mr. Gerard next thought how he could develop his team, both as a group and as individuals.  Here are five steps he used:

  • Teach and model leadership behaviors and skills you want your team to practice. Teaching also means explaining why these skills are important and how and when they can and should be used. 
  • Create opportunities for your team to use these skills-embed these opportunities into their day
  • Check in and see how they are doing—don’t wait until they need help or are floundering. Waiting until they need help is not helping—it is rescuing.
  • Checking in can be via a text, email, and most effectively a personal visit (they don’t have to be long).  Ask questions. Listen to what they have to say, AND THEN provide input and guidance.  Follow up with a written note recapping the discussion and next steps. Ask them to verify that it is accurate. These notes can be used as guidance for future visits—“Last time we spoke about….”
  • Be consistent. Be honest. Be kind

Remember to Celebrate

The leader of pack of wolves begins howling and other pack members feel the call to approach and join in.  One wolf expert, Lois Crisler says, “Like a community sing, a howl is a happy occasion. Wolves love to howl. When it is started, they instantly seek contact with one another, troop together, fur to fur. Some wolves will run from any distance, panting and bright-eyed, to join in, uttering, as they near, fervent little wows, jaws wide, hardly able to wait to sing.”

Mr. Gerard knew he needed to bring his team(s) together regularly and allow them to celebrate and to revel in the positive working relationships that bind them together.  He established a system of recognition for the work of the team members.


The days of the lone wolf are behind us. Leaders who seek success need to create a sense of unity.  Creating teams provides people with opportunities to use their talents, contribute to the well-being of the larger group, experience both feeling valued and valuing other and to joyously celebrate.  


What are you doing?

What are you Doing

Some people define leaders by their followers.  The best leaders are defined by the leaders they create.  They realize that their organizations and their people can’t grow or address all the needs of their group with people that blindly follow.  They need thinkers. They need leaders.  One of the most demanding “jobs” a leader has is the responsibility to nurture, develop and support future leaders.

Leaders who only seek followers don’t value the skills, talents and expertise of their team members. The implicit message is, “You have skills, but if I wasn’t telling you what to do, you wouldn’t know what to do.”  And their team knows that.  If you want 100% from your team, they need to feel valued.

Let’s be clear

This doesn’t mean that leaders don’t provide direction and guide their team. It does mean that leaders should provide opportunities for growth.  They should model leadership skills by providing clear directions.  They clarify expectations with specific objectives and goals—that are measurable and observable.  They follow up and check in with team, monitoring progress, providing appropriate feedback and when necessary effective interventions.

Effective and Ineffective Interventions

The ineffective leader uses interventions as opportunity to take over command, to say, “Gotcha, you are doing it wrong.”  This stifles potential leaders. The message is do it my way, it is the only way.

The effective leader uses intervention as a teachable moment—an opportunity to foster mutual understanding.  They see it as a chance to exchange ideas and participate in some knowledge-sharing that allows for growth on both sides.  They listen and are willing to allow their team to tweak the work if it brings the same outcome or better yet improves outcomes. They use it to mold future leaders and teach leadership skills.

Ineffective leaders will say they don’t have the time for all this coddling. It is easier to just tell people what to do (there is immediate satisfaction/gratification-the job is done and I did it!). There is a timeline and a deadline.  They feel future leaders will just raise to the top. 

Effective leaders see the worth in investing in human capital. They understand the power of relationships.  They know that taking the time to nurture talents pays off in big dividends as time progresses.  It may take more time upfront, but the impact off their leadership and visions is far more lasting and has great impact.

Five Steps to Developing Leaders

  • Teach and model leadership behaviors and skills you want your team to practice. Teaching also means explaining why these skills are important and how and when they can and should be used.
  • Create opportunities for your team to use these skills-embed these opportunities into their day
  • Check in and see how they are doing—don’t wait until they need help or are floundering. Waiting until they need help is not helping—it is rescuing.
  • Checking in can be via a text, email, and most effectively an in a personal visit.  Ask questions. Listen to what they have to say, AND THEN provide input and guidance.  Follow up with a written note recapping the discussion and next steps. Ask them to verify that it is accurate. These notes can be used as guidance for future visits—“Last time we spoke about….”
  • Be consistent. Be honest. Be kind.


Weak leaders surround themselves with only followers.   They believe unless they are managing everything, it won’t get done.  Strong leaders create more leaders. They develop leadership qualities in each member of their team.  They build capacity. They create people that can add to their vision and expand its reach.

Strong leaders allow people to lead—people they have developed and trained. They aren’t afraid to share leadership—they know it makes the group more effective and their leadership more powerful. They know fostering leaders brings additional expertise and perspective and that these bring expansion, growth and loyalty.

What are you doing? 

Just pour me some coffee

Years ago when hired to work at a community based organization, I went around and visited several Executive Directors of other organizations.  One of those meetings will forever stick in my mind. 

I was only 24 years old and inexperienced.  As the saying goes, I did not know what I did not know, so advice and input were very welcome.  I was looking for a mentor, a guide. One of the directors set a time to meet with me through their assistant.  On the day of the meeting I arrived and was asked to take a seat, Mr. Smith was busy. After about 20 minutes, the assistant came out and told me, “Mr. Smith is tied up and won’t be able to meet. Can we reschedule?”

We set a date for the next week.  The same thing happened again and a date was set for the following week.  On that day, the assistant assured me that Mr. Smith would be seeing me. He handed me a pad and pen and said, “Mr. Smith is very smart. You will want to write down everything he says,” and escorted me in Mr. Smith’s office.  It was a long and slightly uncomfortable walk from the door to the desk.  When I got to the desk, Mr. Smith looked up, smiled and said, “Hello.”  Behind Mr. Smith, holding a carafe of coffee was an assistant and the assistant’s sole job seemed to be to fill empty cups of coffee.


I don’t remember much of what Mr. Smith said—sadly the advice to write everything down went unheeded.  Much of it was about what he had done and how he did it. There was no offer for a continuing relationship.

What I do remember is how I felt.  I felt small and then angry. Definitely didn’t feel like a young leader looking for a mentor.  And I do remember that I made up mind, right then and there, never to be that kind of leader.

What could he have done differently?

  • Well, first of all he could have kept the first appointment.  Nothing says you are not valued like cancelling a meeting AT THE TIME OF THE MEETING twice.  When you are in a leadership role, yes, your days get filled quickly and things come up, but everyone’s time is valuable.  Cancelling at the last minute tells people their time is not valued. Plus knowing how to schedule and managing your time well is a great skill to model (and/or teach your staff).
  • Train his staff.  Either Mr. Smith handled his own calendar, and not well, or it was something he should have delegated and trained his staff to do.   I didn’t need to hear how great Mr. Smith was. I did need my time to be respected and to feel comfortable.
  • Simple action. Mr. Smith could have gotten up from behind his desk and welcomed me. Instead, by sitting at his desk and continuing to work until I arrived, said, “I am busy and fitting you in.”  A simple gesture like a recognizing me as I entered could have gone a long way.
  • Mr. Smith could have asked me about my new position and what I intended to do. He could have asked me if I had a vision—not even sure I knew what a vision was back then. I knew what I wanted to do, but had no real plan. There is room for leaders to share their experience; however listening first is a good way to start. When we listen to others, they feel important. The message shouldn’t be, “I am important and I am giving you some of my important time.”  It should be, “You are important. Share what you are thinking and planning. How can I help?”
  • Mr. Smith might have considered how it felt to be an assistant whose sole responsibility was to serve coffee. He could have introduced that assistant and IF the assistant was going to be there, invite them to the table. Make them a participant with a meaningful role.  That is how staff is developed. That is how you create future leaders. He could have modeled how to treat people.


Good leaders place the focus on developing people. They make people feel important—not a false importance.  An importance based on listening to them, developing their talents, providing direction and giving them responsibilities that not only have value, but will help them grow. In short, by respecting them.

Mrs. McGreevy and the Case of the Proficient Rating

At the earlier part of this week I had the opportunity to work with a great group of leaders in the upstate New York area.  They were enthusiastic, engaging, welcoming and honest. What a great combination of qualities. 

Our one day workshop was scattered with interactive discussions, presentation of information and case scenarios.  I know it was invigorating for me to see a roomful of leaders during their summer days off not just being there, but working hard to learn and share.

Case of proficient rating

Mrs. McGreevy

One of the case scenarios gave rise to some great ideas and observations. Here it is:

“Mrs. McGreevy has taught Regents earth science at Marble Middle School for 19 years.  She clearly cares about her students and their learning and is often one of the first teachers to arrive in the morning and one of the last to leave after school.   She volunteers for many student activities and often attends sports events to cheer her students on.  Parents love her because she is so clearly dedicated to her work, and her track record of students passing the Regents is excellent.  She lives in the community and is highly involved with local events. For years, Mrs. McGreevy received the highest rating under the old evaluation system, which had been a district developed check list. 

Ever since the Danielson Rubric was adopted as the evaluation instrument, Mrs. McGreevy has received Proficient ratings.  She has felt hurt and confused about how she went from being an outstanding teacher under the old system to one who is merely Proficient now.  She has struggled to understand what a ‘student centered’ classroom looks like and cannot accept that her teacher directed approach (which gets excellent results) is no longer good enough. 

Mrs. McGreevy has shared her discontent with parents, who are now ready to call a meeting with Principal Scott over what they consider his unfair treatment of a prized teacher like Mrs. McGreevy.”

What We Did

The group spent about 20 minutes working in groups.  Half of the group was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of the principal, Mr. Scott and the other half was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of Mrs. McGreevey.  Both groups delivered some great insights and comments. Here are just a few with comments:

It was hard to put my teacher hat back on and think like a teacher

As we move through different phases of our careers we are bombarded with new information and new responsibilities. These, naturally, fill up our day and our thinking.  However, it is important to remember where we come from –the experiences and challenges. First, they brought us to where we are. Second, they help us to have empathy for the people we are leading. They can remind us how we wanted to be treated as team members. These insights can help guide our actions as we try to foster relationship.

Did the principal explain the framework and the new rating system?

How we communicate information is important.  Participants felt that the principal probably did not sit down with staff members and go through the new framework and what the new rating system meant. And, if he did, it was not clear.  Did they explain criteria for each level?   If leaders think like their team, they would ask themselves, “What information would I want to know? What would make me feel more comfortable with this change?”

How was the new framework introduced to the staff?

This is similar to the point above, but different enough to merit a mention of its own.   Change is a difficult process for everyone.  In this case it was difficult for both the leaders who had to not only learn the new rating system, but explain it to their staff and then use it and it was difficult for the teacher who all of a sudden found herself, after years under one system, being evaluated with a new rubric and no longer at the top of list.

The group agreed that change is a thoughtful process. The unrolling of a new system that affects teacher’s performance rating and income, needs to be thoughtful.  The leader might have put together a team of administrators and teachers to plan how this could happen, to identify what were points of concern, what were the questions the staff had  and how best to communicate this information to the teachers.

Did the principal visit Mrs. McGreevy’s throughout the year?

Participants felt feedback is essential when guiding people through change. A good strategy is to visit classrooms on a regular basis and provide feedback on how they are doing in regard to that change.  Mr. Scott should have provided Mrs. McGreevy with specific feedback on what she was doing well and what she could do better.  This consistent flow of back and forth information would have kept both Mr. Scott and Mrs. McGreevy informed on her progress, her strengths and the areas that she needed to improve. It could have led to a discussion on HOW she could improve—specific behaviors that Mr. Scott was looking for. In addition, a one on one conversation asking Mrs. McGreevy what were her expectations and helping her design a plan on how to achieve them would not only be effective, but foster a strong relationship between them.

What kind of relationship existed between Mrs. McGreevy and Mr. Scott

This was a recurring question from all the groups. Why did Mrs. McGreevy choose to speak to parents about this issue as opposed to go to Mr. Scott? The most prevalent answer was that there was no relationship or at the very least, no trusting relationship between the two.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, relationships are key to successful leadership and especially leadership during change.  Making time in the day to establish and sustain such relationships is time well spent and pays in dividends as the relationship grows and matures.


Leading during change is a thoughtful process and leaders need to be mindful on how they introduce new ideas. Time needs to be taken to reflect, consult and create a step by step process to implement and support the change. Change takes work from both sides. Leaders and their staff both need to be proactive in asking questions, providing input and feedback and keeping the lines of communication open and clear. 

Hope Changes Everything

What is it about change that can be so disconcerting? The list can probably be pages and pages. Here are just 2 ideas:

  • Lawrence Lezotte tells us that the system in place is ideally suited to producing the results the school is currently getting-so when we talk about change we are telling people the system that have been part of, sometimes for years, is changing.  That is unsettling for many.
  • When we ask people, in this case teachers to change what they are doing, even when it is based on data, it is often perceived as a challenge to their personal belief. The feel the hard work they have invested in being devalued.  They feel devalued.

The first point looks at “group” change and the second focuses in on the individual change. The fact is that are both connected and one can’t happen without the other.

In both cases, any change is going to require a change in core beliefs, and core values.  This is true for individual change and for group change.  If we want the change to be permanent and to grow, we must encourage people.  Change has two aspects.  We are going to look at the first, accepting the need for change (the second, as an FYI is managing the change.

Accepting the need for change

What is clear is sometimes the actual act of changing is as much a challenge as the actual change that is being implemented. I might even go as far as to say the act of changing is more of a challenge. 

Change is an emotional process. Yes, as leaders, we need to provide a rationale and a plan.  We need to present data and research, but at the end of the day people don’t follow data and logic, they follow people.  Leaders must draw on their Emotional Intelligence (EI) and connect at a heart-level.  They must offer hope.

Hope Changes Everything


Why is hope important? It moves people past their fear and resistance.  It provides them with a vision of something better—and we all want something better.  Hope helps the terminally sick to work toward their recovery. It helps the high school athlete dream about a career in the pros.  Hope allows us all to persevere as wait for what tomorrow will bring.

Questions to Reflect On

What does that mean for you? What does that mean for your staff? Is there overlap? Can or how can you use it to strengthen the relationship you have with your team? 

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