Name: Eric Sheninger
Organisation: Aspire Change EDU
Eric works with schools throughout the world, helping educators meet and exceed their potential to improve outcomes for learners. He is the founder and CEO of Aspire Change EDU, a collaborative consultancy designed to provide personalized support to all educational systems. Through his work with thousands of schools, Eric has emerged as an innovative leader, best-selling author, and sought-after speaker.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Eric's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
While there is no silver bullet when it comes to change and growth, both become harder to achieve when we are not vulnerable and honest. There is no shame in saying "I don't know" or "I need help." In actuality, these are signs of strength. When leaders are not vulnerable and honest, the result can be doing what they have always done. Complacency has an insidious ability to inhibit our growth. When we are in a state of relative comfort with our professional practice, it is often difficult to move beyond that zone of stability and, dare I say, “easy” sailing. If it isn’t broke, why fix it, right? Maybe we aren’t pushed to take on new projects or embrace innovative ideas.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
During my first couple of years as a leader, I was in a rut and didn’t know it. I led my school in a way that I was brainwashed into thinking was the only way. Education had become more about schooling than learning. Then it happened. My epiphany came in 2009 when I begrudgingly decided to give Twitter a try to improve communications with my stakeholders. Little did I know that this moment in time would totally redefine my purpose in education. As my behavior shifted from communicator to learner I immediately discovered how blinded I was by a system so entrenched in methodologies and practices designed for a period in time that had long past. I learned how to unlearn and then relearn through conversations I began having with passionate educators across the globe. These conversations empowered me to begin the process of taking my school in a better direction for the sake of my students.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am extremely regimented, as I believe developing and sticking to a schedule are essential for my success. I wake up each morning around 4:40 AM and head to the gym. There is nothing better in my mind than starting off the day taking care of yourself. Since I travel a great deal, what happens next varies. If I am not on the road, I begin work in my home office around 7:30 AM writing, preparing keynotes, conducting planning calls, and identifying areas of growth for my business. Efforts are made to eat multiple small meals throughout the day. I am then in bed by 9:30 PM. Even with a chaotic travel schedule, I try to get up and go to bed at the same time.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Leadership is taking people where they need to be as opposed to telling them what to do. Never underestimate the importance of modeling, feedback, and positive reinforcement. People are inspired by our actions as leaders, not directives. Asking others to do what you have not done or are not willing to do rarely leads to inspiring others to change.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Drive by Daniel Pink has been, without a doubt, the most significant book I have ever read professionally. He reveals that the keys to unlocking and sustaining intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. As a leader, this is the type of culture that I worked to foster, one where creativity flourished and my staff was given the support to be innovative. The result led to increased academic performance.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Always invest in your own learning and know that effective leadership is not having all the answers but instead asking the right questions.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I have a secret to share. In my humble opinion, I am not very smart. While others might disagree, such as my mom, I pride myself on being extremely resourceful. However, this was not always my strength. During my years as a teacher and principal, I would spend countless hours planning, researching, and attending professional learning events to hone my craft in order to become a better educator. In all honesty, though, I was just doing what I was taught, and thought were the best ways to grow. The amount of effort put forth resulted in me working much harder than I should have been.
Over the years, I began to delegate more and build capacity in others. I established hiring practices that resulted in the hiring of a lot of smart educators. By investing in, and trusting the people around me, more time was freed up to focus on innovation and large-scale change initiatives to improve school culture. Now, this represented an excellent first step, but probably the most impactful shift to the way I not only thought but worked, came in the unsuspecting form of a little blue bird and a tool called Twitter in 2009. Here is where I finally learned the biggest secret to working smarter, not harder, through the formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). All of us are limited to the people we surround ourselves with in life. Social media has completely disrupted that and, in the process, removed barriers such as time, geography, and money. Here is what I have learned. Always remember that there is someone out there smarter than you. Admitting this is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you genuinely want to get better, and not work harder in the process, connect with these people using digital tools.