• Cathy

Greg McNally's 12 Principles of Leadership



Cathy, here:


When my dad was diagnosed with cancer and was coming upon his final days in 2015, I did what my sister Beth said my dad should always do: write down his thoughts.


So, over a period of a few weeks, we sat down together. Him, lying down in his bed or reclined on his favourite red chair. Me, curled up in a nearby chair with my laptop nestled on my crossed knees.


I'd ask him questions about his thoughts on leadership, education, working with others...and any other item that I knew he had experienced, witnessed or reflected upon over his 67-year-life.


During this time, I learned so much about him - beyond the role as the typical dad. Rather, I discovered more about his experience as an educator for four decades. I found out about his favourite books (Covey, for one). I learned about conversations he had in the school hallways and principal's office. So much good stuff.

Then, one day, he pulled out a piece of paper.

He put together a list. And he wanted to share it with me.

He wrote down a list of qualities that make up a good leader.

He outlined the 12 points he crafted and offered insight and stories to expand on those points.

I furiously wrote down his notes that afternoon, and came away with a concept for a book that defines his theory and philosophy on leadership.

It's been nearly four years since he passed away and I've done nothing with this information. It sits idly in my computer folder titled, "Dad".

Sad, right?

I realized recently that I know what the problem is and what's holding me back from working on it. I want it to be perfect and clearly define his thoughts. And if it's not bang-on, then it doesn't do it justice.

You know - the whole perfectionism game.

With that, I'm going to take a different approach. I'm just going to release those 12 thoughts he shared with me that one sunny, summer day. It's great insight for administrators, educators, business owners and more.

It’s not perfectly written. But it does have beautiful ideas.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it down:


Greg McNally’s 12 principles of leadership


The leader….

1. Listens. Most people think they’re listening when actually they’re formulating their own response. They’re not listening. Most listen and interrupt. If you can, let people talk it out it themselves, and almost always, they’ll come up with their own decision. It’s so easy and nobody does it. Instead, ego gets in the road.

2. Observes. You watch. You look. You don’t judge right away. Stress the positives. For every positive, there is the opposite. If you follow the positives, you’ll usually do alright. If you do negatives, it pulls down the spirit of the community.

3. Acts. There is only so much talk you can do. Then you have to act. People have to see progress. They have to see that what the leader said they were going to do, do. If they can’t do it, then tell them why you can’t, rather than shutting them down.

4. Builds Community. WE’RE all in this together. Let’s each play our part and help the whole community here plus elsewhere. Take a school: school is the board, the board is a province, the province is a country, the country is the world. Building community has a spirit onto its own. You walk into a building and I know right away within a few minutes what the school is all about, what the business is all about, just by sensing the community.

(I then asked: How do you build a community?) You bring people in on the conversation who are responsible for meaning within the organization at any level. By leading, you may be leading by making coffee. Or you could be setting up programs. But without the coffee, without the programs, without the conversation, you won’t grow to the extent that you can. When you’re building, you’re growing.

5. Decides. Even if it turns out to be the wrong decision, decisions have to be made. If a wrong decision is made, you learn from it, and you move forward. Don’t dwell on it. There is nothing more energy draining than dwelling on decisions you can’t change. Instead, you affect the next decision.

6. Leads. You have to lead from the side, front and back. Your role as the official ‘leader’ is that sometimes you have to lead from the front. One example: during a natural disaster, you don’t strike a committee. You pick the people you need immediately and make a decision. Those are in crisis situations. You try to avoid crisis in your planning, but in the real world, it’s hard to. The more you’re in together as a community, the fewer the chances of a crisis, because everyone feels they’re a part of it. People, by nature, want to share. It’s the ones who aren’t comfortable who want to dig into their niche and stay there and stay in the office. Or get out of the classroom as soon as possible. Anyone who is out to preserve themselves is bad for an organization.

If someone has a good idea, then give them support and encouragement and ideas, and let them run it as freely as possible, provided they’re following the same thinking and it doesn’t become about them. It has to meet the purpose of the organization, whether it’s in a classroom or a factory.

7. Communicates. This is probably one of the biggest components. It’s oral, written and silent. Sometimes it’s active, sometimes it’s passive. Actively communicate by writing something, saying something. Passive: observe and from your observation, people can tell where you stand, and implicitly give the indication that it’s the way we should or should not go.

You have to develop skills as a leader in communication. We all do. We have to stretch ourselves. We have to write more, speak more, create more and get help along the way as needed.

8. Has Moral. The leader never puts himself or herself above others. It can never be about their own interest, family, friends – rather, they are part of the whole. Once they step to make even a minor decision that are influenced by personal gain of any kind, it’s a slippery slope to hurting an organization.

For instance – we (board office administrators) would take no hockey tickets, nothing, from any builder, architect because we weren’t going to be beholden to them.

I had one of our lawyers in Ottawa say they’ll get us into their golf tournament and I said I’d never be at it. Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but you and I are business dealers, we’re not here to pat each other on the back to see what we can do for one another. Corporate culture stifles organizations. It’s a necessary part, but what they keep you from doing, is not even close to what they allow you to do. The effectiveness is much diminished.

9. Celebrates. From the smallest event to the largest, one not more important than the other, but all part of the whole. What you celebrate most, is people. You don’t do it by standing up and saying we have the best staff in the world. You do it by showing how you work to ensure that organization is the best.

Celebration can only be positive. There are no negative celebrations, just by the nature of the definition.

10. Plans. One day, a few weeks, for the year, five-year, maybe 20. You have to know where you’re headed or any road will get you there. You have to know what road you want to take. At least, come together to decide what road you want to take.

Planning is of ultimate importance. You have to collaborate in your planning.

11. Welcomes. I knew nothing about special education in the 1980s, but I asked: ‘why are we sending people to the public school?’ And the answer I got was: ‘because we aren’t allowed to have them in the Catholic schools, because legislation said we have to send students with special needs to go to public schools.’ That made no sense to me as you do not build a welcoming community by keeping people out.

You bring your people into your circular organization rather than keep them out, if it’s at all possible. But you don’t welcome people in who are trying to destroy your organization.

12. Balances life. Both within the organization and personally as much as possible.

I had to learn that. I was at the office too long, but I at least didn’t go into the office on the weekend. You can make excuses to working overtime. But when Friday afternoon came, it was done.


You also have to balance life: within the mind, body, heart and soul.

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