Just for APs: Become a Go-To Player
Leadership Insights

Just for APs: Become Your Principal’s Go-to Player

By Terry Wilhelm May 13, 2014

In this series I’ve applied business leadership author John Maxwell’s advice from “Nine Ways to Lead Your Leader” and discussed how assistant principals can “lead up” to their principals. This post explores how an AP can apply Maxwell’s eighth tip: Become a go-to player. APs who invite their principals to allow them to share responsibilities can become indispensable.

How one assistant principal became her reticent principal’s go-to player

My favorite example of this is an assistant principal who I’ll call Cheryl, who had begun to feel stuck and discouraged about in her role as the AP of discipline. Her principal, “Tammy,” kept all instructional responsibilities solely as her own and was very close to the vest about discussing district goals, priorities, and initiatives with Cheryl. Tammy also seemed to be overwhelmed much of the time, which is common for leaders who are unable to trust others enough to share leadership and delegate responsibilities.

Cheryl began to consider Tammy’s history in the district, including situations where she had worked with people she clearly did not trust because of past incidents. Tammy was a very closed person, both personally and professionally. It became easier to understand why Tammy was reticent to share responsibilities and information. Cheryl concluded that she might be able to get her principal to open up, simply by taking small steps to create a stronger personal relationship that would result in higher trust.

Small steps for APs to build trust and offer help

Knowing that Tammy was dealing with her aging parents’ health issues as well as other family problems she alluded to but did not discuss, Cheryl began to simply check in with her principal each morning by asking, “How are you, and how is everyone else doing?” Both Cheryl and her principal habitually arrived early in the morning, affording an opportunity for private conversation. As Tammy began to share more details about her personal challenges, Cheryl listened empathetically and began to make the offer, “Just let me know if there is anything I can take off your plate.”

Eventually, Tammy began to delegate small but important instructional responsibilities to Cheryl, including collecting and monitoring the data for a critical district initiative. When Tammy’s mother took a turn for the worse, she called Cheryl to ask if she would be willing to present the school’s data for this initiative at a high-profile meeting at the district office. Cheryl felt well-prepared and received accolades for her presentation.

Go-to players must not be self-serving

This was the first of several opportunities for Cheryl to increase her visibility at the district level, which would probably never have come about if she had not begun to work on building trust with Tammy, making her the go-to person for her principal. I must add that Cheryl is a deeply caring person, and when she offered to take things off her principal’s plate she was not acting in a self-serving manner.

Cheryl’s story demonstrates that when our behaviors spring from the integrity of our core values, such as true caring, others experience them as genuine. APs: Think about what you can do to become your leader’s go-to person. No matter how small you start, building trust in small steps will allow your leader to begin to rely on you.

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