Focus and Avoid the Sharks

If you are like most people, you embraced the new year with optimism and hope that 2019 will be your best year ever.  New Year’s resolutions can be rejuvenating reminders of who or what we want to be. It’s easy to be passionate and focused in January. However without focus, “sharks”, as Vice Adm. William H. McRaven calls people or things that can devour us, will smell blood in the water and will eventually hinder us from accomplishing our goals and vision for the school year.

While training for the 1936 Olympics, Joe Rantz and his crewmates as described in Boys in the Boat learned that a wandering thought or the slightest glance at their opponent will slow down and interrupt the synchronization needed to perform at the optimal level.  To keep their minds locked into their vision of winning the gold medal, the members of the eight-man crew would chant in unison, “MIB, MIB, MIB”; “Mind in Boat”. By chanting as one voice under the command of the coxswain, the rowers not only felt the cadence of their oars, but they were also reminded to focus on the task at hand.   Swing, the moment described in Boys in the Boat when talented individuals are working in perfect unison, can only be achieved when all team members are singular in focus.  They knew that when you lose your focus, you risk second-guessing your own path to greatness. 

For us as school leaders, our focus must be similarly lasered on the goals and vision we have for our students, staff, and school culture.  Just as Rantz risked losing the gold medal and falling into the water if he lost focus, a loss of focus on school culture can result in growing frustrations, a defeatist mentality, and burnout.  As we review our goals and vision for the school year, can you identify potential distractors that could make you or your school lose its swing?


As a reminder to focus on the urgency of each day, we post a countdown in the cafeteria for all to see.

Potential sharks for me that are essential job functions in moderation but overbearing in excess can include being flooded with non-essential emails, inundated with meetings, and overwhelmed by the volume of calls on the school walkie-talkie, and many more.  Without being purposeful in my time management and establishing relational boundaries, it is easy to lose swing and be swallowed by the sharks when I lose focus on the main thing, a healthy and growing school culture.

What is your plan to manage your sharks so they do not slow your cadence and progress, and so that you are able to “keep the main thing, the main thing”? Can you limit the amount of time you devote to non-critical conversations and emails? How will you counter Kulture Killers?  How will you respond to the people who thrive on misery?  What reminders can you post in a predominant place as a visual representation of your goals and vision?

As we get further away from January 1st and the passion of New Year’s resolutions, remember to keep the focus on your goals and vision that were set in August and create a plan to manage your sharks. The success of your students, staff, and your school culture depends on your focus.  “MIB, MIB, MIB”.


This blog was written by David Leenman. Mr. Leenman is in his 13th year of education. He has served in both middle and high schools. Before becoming an assistant principal, Mr. Leenman worked in special education and history and coached basketball, football, and soccer.

Categories: Uncategorized

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