Lessons from the EAGLES

Lessons from THE EAGLES

I attended my last two Eagles concerts this year (2021) remembering the many previous concerts. One concert in Austin, TX, Don Henley came out first. He asked for people to put away their electronic gear. Henley used a quote by John Lennon, “BE HERE NOW!”

“Be Here Now”
Don Henley

As a leader in schools one of the most critical behaviors required is to show up and focus on what is in front of you. Whether it be students, colleagues, community members, give your full attention. Taking a phone call during a meeting sends the signal the phone is more important than the person in front of you.

I have, if expecting an important or prescheduled phone call, told the person or group that I have a prearranged call so they are aware I might take a break to receive a call. Playing telephone tag wastes time and energy.

People want to be taken seriously, know you are listening, understanding them, and have a genuine interest in what they have to say. Angeles Arrien said, “Show Up and Be Fully Present”

I think, based on the titles of the Eagles songs, I have learned many lessons about life and leadership. Some of my colleagues have called me a synthesizer. Thank you. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from reflecting on their songs and concerts:

1. Dirty Laundry

Humans are drawn to the drama. I have a ‘42 second rule.’ Any event at school will be known by everyone in about 42 seconds. So, when someone says, ‘I won’t tell anyone, ‘They don’t have to tell anyone.’ The more sensational and negative, the faster the rumors travel. People watch what you do, not necessarily what you say. Now with technology it is even harder for a principal or leader to talk to a parent, colleague, or superior first. HA, good luck.

If there is a rumor about a staff member, true or not, put on your track shoes. The rumor mill and media will be on you like flies to honey. And it will stick. Rumors have long memories and long legs. The mere accusations can tarnish reputations at lightning speed. It doesn’t have to be true to travel faster than a speeding bullet.

New Rule: Assume nothing will be secret. Do the right thing.

2. Busy Being Fabulous

If a leader’s goal is to get lots of accolades and be honored, please find another position. If you want to be fabulous, hire a press agent. If you want to do good work and contribute to your own learning, the staff learning, and most importantly students’ learning, please know this is hard work. This is a team sport. Get over yourself. Harry S. Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

New Rule: If you want fame, don’t apply for leadership positions in schools or districts. Stay home and read your press clippings.
3. New Kid in Town

Whether you are the new leader or doing turnaround leadership in schools, it is not easy work. When I am asked, “how do you do it?” I respond, ‘put on iron underwear.’ You will get eaten from all sides. Therefore, a leader must have their values well established, know which hill you are willing to die on, and have the political savvy to find out who will be there in crunch time.

Sam Keen (1991), in his book Fire in the Belly said each person must answer two questions:
1. Where are you going?
2. Who will go with you?
Sam says, ‘never get these two questions out of order.’ If you do, trouble will brew.

Personal connections will make you or break you. When coaching a principals new to a school I recommend spending time in the hallways talking to staff and students. Staff needs to get a read on the new leader. They need to hear you talk so they can assess your credibility and authenticity. Most staff want to know where you are going before they decide if they want to go with you. Meet with staff and student leadership teams. Communicate with parents via meetings, articles, email, etc. If you don’t send a message out, they will make it up. See Dirty Laundry.

New Rule: Build relationships and get the lay of the land first before suggesting changes.

4. Witchy Woman

There will be witches and warlocks along the way. These people can be internal or external to the organization. Some may be stealth candidates and be hard to recognize at first.

Stealth people want what they want when they want it. As accommodating as a leader may want to be, there are limits to time, personnel, and financial resources. There are also limits to how creative the organization will allow you to be, given the mission and the leadership of the school or district.

There is a Chinese Proverb: “It is easier to stay out than get out.” Therefore, be careful making a short-term decision with long-term consequences. I do believe in the Platinum Rule. Try to treat people how they want to be treated. Find out their working style. ‘Finding Your Why’ is a great way to discover what drives you. Finding their why will help people to work together in the organization. Leaders must consider legal, contractual, and ethical agreements.

New Rule: Compare espoused values with behavioral actions. The farther apart, beware. The closer, trust is easier and the more risks you can take.

5. Life in the Fast Lane

I am sure you have heard ‘the only constant is change.’ Put on your seatbelt. Technology, scarcity of resources, societal demands are all increasing, not slowing down. Remember twenty years ago when you may have said, ‘it can’t get any worse.’ HA. It can and often does. The Eagles have another song that fits, “Get Over It.” You don’t have control over everything. The good news is you may not have caused problems. The bad news, or good news is, you are responsible to help fix problems.

Dan Heath (2020) published the book Upstream. The premise of the book is needing to look at what causes our problems rather than just the events that are currently happening. Peter Senge, Russ Ackoff, and several business experts have identified systems thinking long ago. What are the messes that created the problems?

Rather than band aids, look at organizational cultures that are producing the results we are getting. W. Edwards Deming many years ago said, and I paraphrase, ‘you are getting 100% of the results you are designed to get.’ If you want different results, look at the design of the organization and quit blaming people. Hold people accountable. More importantly, create the context for people to do their best, including you.

New Rule: See systems, not just the parts.

6. Already Gone

The Fast Lane is driving more and more teachers and administrators out of the profession. I hear people say we don’t have enough teachers. Bullfeathers! We have plenty of teachers. They are choosing not to teach. WHY? Let’s look at the culture of schools before we blame those who have given much of their lives to teaching kids. The same is true for administrative positions. Many leaders stand up for ethical issue and receive criticism for it. Psychological safety (Edmondson 2019) is the number one reason for innovation and risk-takiing.

Frederick Herzberg (1968) wrote about motivation. Here are the major elements of people’s growth and intrinsic motivation factors
• Achievement
• Recognition for achievement, the work itself
• Responsibility
• Growth or advancement
Question: How many of these are present in the education field. NOTE: compensation isn’t in the top group. Other factors are why many are leaving. To refer to another Eagles song, how many will stay for “The Long Run?”

Another factor in ‘Already Gone’ is the term “sunk costs.” Sunk costs are time, energy, and resources already spent. Leaders can whine about what happened. How is that working for you? Marshall Goldsmith, the best business coach ten years in a row, focuses on FeedForward. What are you going to do now? The only thing leaders’ control is the future. Learn from the past and focus on the future.

New Rule: Move from compliance cops to culture coaches. That means teachers, leaders, parents, and students. Thank you to Jathan Janove for the metaphor of cops to coaches.

7. One of these nights

“Going to…” “Have to…” “Once I get… I will…” Sound familiar? One of the lyrics is, “what turns on your lights?” What gets you excited? What drives you?” There is an adage, ‘you can’t give what you don’t have.’ As a leader I have to fill my cup so I am ready to fill others’ cups. And as a leader, who fills your cup?

Instead of ‘One of these nights’ how about NOW. What do you do to get that excitement? Get it back if you have lost it along the way? Who do you hang with? People who sap you, suck you dry or people who zap you by energizing and are optimistic?

The song continues with ‘I’ve been search for a devil and an angel.’ Yes, energy sometimes comes with risk. However, most people on their deathbed say they regret NOT doing something more than what they did do. Marshall Goldsmith asked this question, ‘Imagine yourself ten years from now. What would that future person tell your current person?’ Great question. Now, you answer it for you.

New Rule: Chinese Proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
8. Take it to the Limit

“So put me on a highway and show me a sign.” What are the signs that will tell you are one the right road or the road to recovery? I find reading new things, sometimes outside the education genre helps. Going to workshops. If I get one new idea that I can implement is a good sign. Physical exercising is another.

One action, as a school leader, that changes my attitude is visiting a classroom and seeing the magic that occurs between a teacher and students. It helps me remember my ‘why’ I am an educator.

Question. What will it take for you to, “take it to the limit one more time?” Certainty, of results is not one that happens with regularity. Adding to my repertoire and increasing my emotional agility to use that repertoire does allow me to go the limit one more time. I think this is a form of hope.

Shane Lopez said, “Memory grips the past; hope grips the future.” Many time we remember negative things from the past, have those feelings in the present, and project them to the future. Stop that. You can change the future, not the past.

New Rule: Find one positive action you can take every day. Add that to your routine every chance you get.
9. Desperado

‘You never smell the roses.’ This was a comment from my first principal. He said I was bright and spent too much time on what was wrong instead of being happy for the things I was teaching kids and coaching. This advice helped me find more efficacy and understand that I can contribute even to an inner-city environment with kids who were struggling.

My second principal was a former college wrestler and coach like me. We were focused on power. It worked for a while. I was losing my humanity using only power to get things done. My third principal, Marney Wamsley showed up at the right time. She told me I didn’t have to use power for everything. I trusted her. I knew she had my best interest at heart.

I was ready to quit education when Marney became my principal. She suggested I see Art Costa who was hosting workshops on thinking skills. Art said, “I am not interested in what a student does when they know the answer to something. I am more interested in what a student does when they don’t know the answer to something.”

That is why I am still in education. That shift in focus was monumental for me. Marney and Art provided me a ‘why’ and a reason to keep contributing to learning, mine and others. “You better let somebody love you before it’s too late.” If you are fortunate, ‘when the student is ready, a teacher appears.’ I am grateful.

New Rule: Keep a journal of what and who you are grateful for in your life. Keep it handy, you will need to review it from time to time. Make sure you tell how important they are to those who helped you.

10. Hotel California

Many times, we are prisoners of our own mind. Once we focus in on a way to do something, it is harder to see other possibilities. Angeles Arrien writes about four main behaviors.
1. Show up and be fully present
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
3. Tell the truth without blame and judgment
4. Be open to outcome [not attached on how to get there]
I try to remember these in most things I do.

As technology continues to direct our lives I am reminded of the lyric, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.” Our devices are influencing our lives more than we know sometimes. John Naisbitt (1982) in his book Megatrends has a chapter on ‘High Tech, High Touch.’ We do not give up the need for high relationships with people just because technology can provide many services. I think we need more relationships because of technology.

Once committed to learning, as I found with Art Costa years ago, “I can check-out any time you like but you can never leave.” Once learning and contributing was my ‘WHY,’ I can never leave. And I am glad of that. As Angeles Arrien reminded me many years ago, “If your business is waking up the dead, GET UP, TODAY IS A WORKDAY.”

New Rule: Learn, Lend a hand, Live a better life


Arrien, A. (1993). The four-fold way: walking paths of the warrior, teacher, healer,
and visionary. New York: HarperCollins.

Edmondson, Amy. (2019). The Fearless Organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What got you here won’t get you there. New York: Hyperion

Goldsmith, M. (2009). Mojo. New York: Hyperion.

Herzberg, F. (2008). One more time: how do you motivate employees? Boston: Harvard
Business Press.

Naisbitt, John. (1982). Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York:
Grand Central Publishing.

Sinek, Simon. (2009). Start with Why. New York: Penguin.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!