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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where to, Next?

Where to, Next?

By Sheila Akinleye
Doctoral Student
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor

Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Many of us have been there –with children who just won’t stop asking questions.  If your kids are anything like those of our respective families, then one of their favorite places for commentary, questioning, and even at times, cross-examination, is the car. They’ll want to know where we are going, what’s going to happen when we get there, and where we are going next, all in one breath.
            It dawned on us, that we as adults, who are oftentimes bigger renditions of our childhood selves, are little different from our children when it comes to seeking direction in the midst of uncertainty.  In our roles as leaders, just like anyone else, we have encountered situations in our professional careers where we began to wonder, “Where to, next?” …  “What move should I make?” … and “Where am I headed?”  
Wanting to keep our positions of leadership, ones of “Blissness as Usual” for as long as possible (ISU Ed. Leadershop, April 2, 2014), we seek comfort in knowing when to stay in our current roles, and then when, why, and under what conditions to move on (let alone “how”) professionally.  It is with this in mind that we began thinking about responding to these questions from the perspective of two important ideas, which can apply to the lives of other leaders as they consider new opportunities. Therefore, in the remainder of this article we investigate how self-direction and reflection, two important qualities for helping us become leaders, can assist in the discovery process of “Where to, next?”
Unlike the usual responses, including our logical appeals to patience and comfort in the unknown, which work about as well with the adults as they do to our children, this response requires the foresight and skill necessary to take calculated risks. We offer the following for your consideration:

“To know where we are going, we must know where we are.”

Our inquisitive children are known to ask good questions, such as, “How do you know where you’re going?”  An immediate and simplified response would be, “Because I know where I am and where I want to be.” This question is a great parallel for people who marvel at great leadership at work because the response given reveals the mind of a master at work.
The process of assessing where we are, upon which road we are traveling, and where to turn next, takes a good deal of effort for most.  Our best travelers are able to clearly define where one is in relation to where one wants to be, impacting how quickly one arrives at any destination.
For example, the standard route for most teachers desiring to become school leaders is to get an administrator’s license and begin shadowing an administrator at their schools or others’ schools. Yet, this isn’t the only pathway available to budding leaders desiring make a positive difference on behalf of children. Multiple opportunities present themselves.
Who will garner leadership opportunities the quickest -- most efficiently and effectively in whatever path is available?  It will be those who know where they are, of course.  Persons who are in places that allow them, no matter the circumstance, to leverage leadership traits and skills in whatever form (i.e. “to make things happen”) will be more apt to parlay their present circumstance to those of the next.  A case in point is the successful teacher leader who leverages skills and carries the clout of someone who “holds it down” in the classroom, walking the walk of one who inspires others to perform above their own expectations. No doubt those holding the keys to the next leadership opportunity will see such a person as more capable of exponentially expanding their immediate gifts in reaching students.

“To get to where we are going, the “who” we need to know is us.”

Leaders may be “found”; they may even be “created” in a sense, through careful coaching and leadership development.  Whether they are born is an ongoing debate.  That said, true leaders almost always share something in common, a presence, or as Jack Zenger of Forbes Magazine would call it, “self-awareness.”  Self-awareness involves knowing the effect we have on others around us, as well as knowing how we are being perceived, and even more importantly, using this information as a type of tool or instrument to get the job done.
Poor leaders often mistakenly believe they can travel where they want to go, focused on the job to get done, or even on others, before focusing on themselves.  By doing so, they inadvertently treat others as tools or instruments, when the more powerful tool, self-awareness, is working against them. This not only undermines their own successes, but also creates much unintentional inefficiency in their wake.
Viewing self-awareness from a different perspective, in their work, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires, Dr. Nate Regier and Jeff King explain how to avoid the trap of the energy draining, dramatic theater that often happens in human relationships by adopting what they call, “The Compassion Triangle.”  Drawing upon the work of Steven Karpman, the authors define the three points of the compassion triangle as: persistence, resourcefulness, and openness.  Self-awareness, or having the presence of mind of a true leader, requires these same qualities.

            As a sage-like parent might respond to a child who asks, “Are we there yet?” leaders may be wise to encourage self-awareness in responding, “Does it appear that we are?” or maybe even one more reflective, “What does ‘there,’ look like?”


Zenger, J. (2014, April 17). The singular secret for a leader's success: self-awareness. Retrieved from

Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: transcending energy vampires. Newton, KS: Next Element Consulting.


Sheila Akinleye and Ryan Donlan enjoy pondering how life and leadership intersect.   Their vantage points for the beginning of conversations often begin with themselves.  If you would like to contact either, please feel free to reach-out at or .

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