Take Notes with Jen Rafferty

The power of vulnerability in leadership. How to build a stronger team with Dr. Walter Polka and Dr. John McKenna

March 07, 2024 Jen Rafferty Season 3 Episode 20
The power of vulnerability in leadership. How to build a stronger team with Dr. Walter Polka and Dr. John McKenna
Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
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Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
The power of vulnerability in leadership. How to build a stronger team with Dr. Walter Polka and Dr. John McKenna
Mar 07, 2024 Season 3 Episode 20
Jen Rafferty

Are you eager to be a leader who truly connects with your team but not sure how to get there?


Many leaders find themselves overwhelmed by the demands of their positions, struggling to connect with their teams and make a positive impact. It's easy to fall into the trap of leading with authority and ego, but this approach often leads to dissatisfaction and disconnection from those we aim to inspire.


In this enlightening episode, we dive into the heart of what truly makes a great leader. Joined by Dr. Walter Polka and Dr. John McKenna seasoned leadership experts from Niagara University, we explore the transformative power of leading with empathy, kindness, and genuine care for others. 


Discover why effective leadership is all about building strong relationships, understanding the needs of your team, and being open to feedback. You’ll learn actionable strategies to become more self-aware and reflective, enabling you to embrace vulnerability and foster a culture of teamwork and mutual respect. 


If you're ready to transform your leadership style and create a more connected, effective team, tune in to this episode. Let's get started!


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Dr. Walter Polka:

Dr. Walter Polka has held numerous professional positions throughout his 45 years as an educator. His positions include: high school social studies teacher and advisor for various clubs and organizations as well as an interscholastic coach at Lewiston-Porter High School; Williamsville Central School District social studies/science curriculum coordinator K-12; assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and superintendent of schools of the Lewiston-Porter School District.

Since 1970, Dr. Polka has also served as an adjunct professor at various institutions of higher education including Brockport State College, Buffalo State College, Medaille College, Niagara County Community College, Niagara University, SUNY Buffalo and Loyola University in Maryland. Dr. Polka’s full-time university professional responsibilities also included associate professor of educational leadership; doctoral dissertation chair; and doctoral program coordinator in educational leadership at Georgia Southern University. He is currently the leadership and policy doctoral program coordinator and full tenured professor in the professional programs department at Niagara University.

wpolka@niagara.edu



About Dr. John McKenna:

Dr. John McKenna joined Niagara University in 2023 as an Assistant Professor in the Leadership Studies Department after a long and distinguished career in public administration. Before coming to Niagara University, Dr. McKenna served as a public school administrator and educator for over 35 years.

Dr. McKenna has been recognized for his achievements and contributions to the profession with the SAANYS New York State Outstanding Educator of the Year Award, the NYSPTA Advocate in Action Award, a New York State Senate Proclamation for Outstanding Leadership, and a New York State Senate Resolution for Dedication and Service. Additionally, he was recognized with the SUNY at Buffalo Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award as well as UB’s Graduate School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award


mckennaleadership.com

JohnMcKenna@McKennaLeadership.com


Show Notes Transcript

Are you eager to be a leader who truly connects with your team but not sure how to get there?


Many leaders find themselves overwhelmed by the demands of their positions, struggling to connect with their teams and make a positive impact. It's easy to fall into the trap of leading with authority and ego, but this approach often leads to dissatisfaction and disconnection from those we aim to inspire.


In this enlightening episode, we dive into the heart of what truly makes a great leader. Joined by Dr. Walter Polka and Dr. John McKenna seasoned leadership experts from Niagara University, we explore the transformative power of leading with empathy, kindness, and genuine care for others. 


Discover why effective leadership is all about building strong relationships, understanding the needs of your team, and being open to feedback. You’ll learn actionable strategies to become more self-aware and reflective, enabling you to embrace vulnerability and foster a culture of teamwork and mutual respect. 


If you're ready to transform your leadership style and create a more connected, effective team, tune in to this episode. Let's get started!


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Dr. Walter Polka:

Dr. Walter Polka has held numerous professional positions throughout his 45 years as an educator. His positions include: high school social studies teacher and advisor for various clubs and organizations as well as an interscholastic coach at Lewiston-Porter High School; Williamsville Central School District social studies/science curriculum coordinator K-12; assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and superintendent of schools of the Lewiston-Porter School District.

Since 1970, Dr. Polka has also served as an adjunct professor at various institutions of higher education including Brockport State College, Buffalo State College, Medaille College, Niagara County Community College, Niagara University, SUNY Buffalo and Loyola University in Maryland. Dr. Polka’s full-time university professional responsibilities also included associate professor of educational leadership; doctoral dissertation chair; and doctoral program coordinator in educational leadership at Georgia Southern University. He is currently the leadership and policy doctoral program coordinator and full tenured professor in the professional programs department at Niagara University.

wpolka@niagara.edu



About Dr. John McKenna:

Dr. John McKenna joined Niagara University in 2023 as an Assistant Professor in the Leadership Studies Department after a long and distinguished career in public administration. Before coming to Niagara University, Dr. McKenna served as a public school administrator and educator for over 35 years.

Dr. McKenna has been recognized for his achievements and contributions to the profession with the SAANYS New York State Outstanding Educator of the Year Award, the NYSPTA Advocate in Action Award, a New York State Senate Proclamation for Outstanding Leadership, and a New York State Senate Resolution for Dedication and Service. Additionally, he was recognized with the SUNY at Buffalo Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award as well as UB’s Graduate School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award


mckennaleadership.com

JohnMcKenna@McKennaLeadership.com


Jen Rafferty  
Are you caught in the whirlwind of overwhelming responsibilities, and as the very thought of Monday morning sent chills down your spine? Well, it's time to toss those fillings out the window. Welcome to Season 3 of the Take Notes - Podcast, where you get to make yourself a priority in order to show up as your best self. I'm your host Jen Rafferty, former music teacher, emotional intelligence practitioner, mom of two, and founder of Empowered Educator, and I've been where you are. 

Jen Rafferty  
In this season, we're not just talking about surviving, we are diving deep into thriving. Are you ready to take the lead in your life? Well, let's do this. Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Take Notes. I am here today with two incredible people we're gonna be talking about leadership today. With me is Walter Polka and John McKenna from Niagara University. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your time and your talents with us.

Dr. John McKenna  
Thank you for having us. We really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Looking forward to a good conversation with you, Jennifer.

Jen Rafferty  
Same here. So I'd love to just dive in, because I know you to play a big role in the leadership program at Niagara University. And I want to paint a broad picture with broad strokes here about what makes a good leader, there are so many resources, there's so much literature, there are so many personality tests and different things we can take about what our strengths are. But from where you're standing and in the work that you've done. If we were to boil it down, what are the characteristics that make a really good leader?

Dr. John McKenna  
I'll let you go first. Well, because you've had a great background in this, so I'll let you take and then I'll jump on what you say.

Dr. Walter Polka  
All right, and I'll just give you a quick, broad brush response. Leadership is all about relationships, relationships, and more relationships, okay, it's about the individual who either assumes or has been appointed as a leader in an organization to be sure that they develop excellent interpersonal relationships with the people in their organization. They need to have that from a basis of a human relationship, a high touch approach, need to be sure that people in the organization know that they care. We often say in our books that, you know, like students, but employees also they don't really care how much you know, until they know how much you care about them and their work and their organization. And they also have needs that have to be fulfilled, and the leader has to attend to those. But the best way to start attending to him is to be sure you know your people who you work with. And also you need to know yourself. So it's knowing yourself, knowing the people you work with and making sure you attend to relationships.

Dr. John McKenna  
Yeah. I would agree with Walt wholeheartedly. And I'll just add a few things. I think that some of the qualities that I think matter quite a bit are being kind, caring, and empathetic. I think that those three words, you'll hear me say those three words a lot, because they're just baked into what I believe in and what I stand for. And when I think of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits related to that is seek first to understand and then be understood, I think, all good leaders try to do that. And another one of the habits I think are really important is find win-win solutions. Because so often things become adversarial and controversial than if we could sit down and really work together and try to see things from each other's opinion. I really do believe that you can always find win-win solutions to make things move forward in a positive way.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, for sure. And, of course, that was a fundamental book in my research and my learning and my growth and development, too. And the work that I'm doing. So I'm glad you brought up that book. I agree with everything that you're saying. And I'm sure you've experienced this yourself from all sorts of ends of the spectrum in the work that you do in this world now, but there are a lot of people out there who really believe that they are great leaders. And it turns out, they're not. So how do we address that self reflective piece? Because you had said one of the last things that you had shared is knowing yourself? Can we go there for a little bit and spend some time of really getting to some concrete strategies and ways to have that real sense of reflection so you can know yourself?

Dr. Walter Polka  
I think that's very important. You need to reflect you need to recognize and I'll go to the work of whosits and Posner and other leadership individuals that leadership can be learned. Okay, you can learn to become. There's a leader in all of us and John's done a lot of work with the organization in terms of the leader in me, for people in schools, students, but that everyone has the potential to be the leader. You need to look at yourself, your personality, what do you like to do, what are your hot buttons and identify how you can modify those who need to modify those to fit into the situation. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
Okay, there's situational ethics and situational leadership, you need to know the people in your organization, you need to know the organization, you need to know its mission, its vision, you also need to know its context. And that's what we stressed a lot in the managing yourself and others during crisis times the book that we first did on this topic related to COVID is that you need to know who you are your strengths, and reflect about that. And you're going to take risks in terms of COVID leaders all along the spectrum, principals, superintendents, teachers, people were taking risks in territories that they had no roadmap for, okay? They were in a new era, and they needed to take the risk that they felt comfortable with. But not everyone feels that comfortable with the risk. So you have to know what's your risk level, what's your commitment, your involvement with your organization, so you have to do a lot of self assessment. And I like the Gandhi quote, that you want to be the kind of change that you want to see in the world. If you just take that, again, to turn it into, you want to be the kind of leader that you believe this organization needs at this time.

Dr. John McKenna  
I'll piggyback on there too. And I think that being self reflective, everybody agrees is an important part of being a leader. And every leader thinks they are self reflective, or they are there not everyone seems to think they are. And I reflect on the work of Brene Brown, and she talks about vulnerability, and how you have to have courage to be vulnerable. And that's what I think people in leadership really need the courage to put yourself out there to really take constructive advice and constructive criticism sometimes, and be willing to take that and say, yeah, this is how I can improve and this is how I can be better. 

Dr. John McKenna  
And I know I think of the years when I was a building principal, I used to always do an evaluate, I used to have the staff evaluate me. And I did it anonymously. And I'd put it out there. And I'd say I want your feedback, I want to hear what you have to say. And every year I would get this feedback, and some was positive. And some was, this is how you need to improve John. And it was important that I did that because you need to get the honest truth sometimes, and not just with our own lenses, because we always see things, I think we always naturally tend to think that the things we do as leaders are right, and the things we're doing are good. And we need to have those constructive voices out there. And we have to be open. And that's where I like the work of Brene Brown about vulnerability. 

Dr. John McKenna  
We need to feel put ourselves out there to be able to accept those types of things, and then make the adjustments necessary to improve and become better. So that's where I think why leadership sometimes is rare in that case is because a lot of folks aren't willing to be vulnerable, to really hear and listen that maybe what they're doing isn't the right and correct thing. But if you really want to be the best leader possible, you have to be willing to take that constructive advice, and then move forward and make yourself better.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Unfortunately, in education, some of our leaders of school districts advocate all of what John said for their followers, or their principals, furthered district level employees and so on. But you know, Jennifer, they don't really practice it on themselves. One of my doctoral students, Jeffrey Rabee, who was superintendent in a couple school districts in Western New York, and during his tenure as an active superintendent did his research on that very topic of reflection of superintendents in New York State in 2014. And he found that was one of the least activities they engaged in. And the follow up data from that over the years has shown it hasn't changed much. We advocated for others. But sometimes it's very hard for us to recognize that we need to do it, we need to do that 360 degree review of what we're doing and when we're doing it.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. So I have a couple things that I want to say, because I'm so glad that we went here now, because the work that I do also is really communicating the facts, particularly to leaders but to everybody in the schools that your impact is dependent on your ability to look inward and your own personal growth journey. And a lot of what you're saying really has to do with this idea of dropping your ego and creating a space to be vulnerable. And by doing that, redefining what it means to be a leader and what I particularly enjoy about talking with the two of you is that in the world of superintendents and school leadership happens to be all men, the majority of men, and this idea of being vulnerable, and the this now switch of what it means to be a strong leader, and kind of dropping all of these old ways and old traditions of ego driven leadership. 

Jen Rafferty  
And it's really refreshing to hear that coming from the two of you, who are part of that group of people, right, who are in leadership positions. So I'm wondering, for you personally, what is it like? What is the process for you to receive that 360 feedback. Receive a piece of information that might not be a glowing review. And for you to be able to drop your ego enough to say, okay, this is how I'm going to show up as a leader, because this is what my organization actually needs. What does that like for you?

Dr. Walter Polka  
I can start that off just with a hit on what you initially asked. And I've been in the education business for over 55 years now. Okay. So when I was trained, and not just as a teacher, but then certified in New York state, as a superintendent back in 1970, one of the books that were often the references used for the great man theory of leadership, okay. And that was one of the key issues that there are certain people who, and especially men, who have this ability to rise above the rest and be the leader, you know, and those examples came in loud and clear. And I think it obviously took some good self reflection on my part, I know on John's part as well, to say we're in a business that's 80% of the teachers are female, only 20 to 25% of the superintendents are female, we're getting more and more females in the building principalship roles, but there has to be a change in how we look at who the leader is, what are some of their key qualities. And how empathetic are they with the feelings and the beliefs of others. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
It's like cultural competency, but it's really gender competency, age cabinets, all of those things pulled together, so that you recognize what are the factors that you need to have in this organization and how are you going to work with these people who put it bluntly are different from you, in many ways, okay, and have different feelings and values and attitudes and how do we address them. For me, as I went through my training, and my experiences initially, as a school leader, it was an important transition, I attribute it to some of the things that were part of my own personal experience. I grew up my mother, father died when I was three and a half, she was a strong willed business person in Niagara Falls, she only had three years of schooling. She really focused on education for me and my brothers, but gave that sense that we need to be well aware of the needs of other people, and that families are different, people are different, and how are we going to react and build a coalition of these different people?

Dr. John McKenna  
Yeah, I was like to say to you, I think too often people mistake bravado and ego for leadership. And what they end up doing is you get these people that are just loud. And these steps come across like they have all the answers. And so often, they lead teams right over a cliff, right? They're not sick, they're in so often you see these stories where they're not successful. And one of the things that I've learned through the years is through teamwork, cooperation, and empowerment. That's how you make the best decisions. When you really get like consensus and build teams and you really working together that gets the best outcomes, because to me, leadership is about what is going to bring about the best results, the best outcomes. And what I've found is when we work together, listen to all people, share the leadership, you always will end up in a better place. And one of the most important things about that is that people own the change. They believe in the change. They know the purpose of why you're doing what you're doing. And then when you have that as your Northstar, you're going to get to where you're supposed to be. But if it's just somebody dictating to you or yelling at you to do something very ineffective, as far as I've seen, in my years of experience.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Too many settings, number that was like those individuals who could yell the loudest, or seem to have the strongest voice or had the whistle blow came from maybe a strong athletic background had that sense of how they could direct the team, they became the administrators. And then they moved up the ladder to the superintendency. And we've all worked, or they were ex military individuals, one of the first principles that I worked for was retired Major from the Air Force, and he was very authoritative, because that was his training and his background. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
I think we've come somewhat away from there. But there are still some issues with how people were initially trained, and what their expectations are, we need to continue to focus on self reflection, are you the right fit with your behaviors and your attitudes and values now for this situation, and maybe you need to change because you know what, the context isn't going to change that much. You know, if you're in an urban school, it's going to be an urban school, probably next 20, 30, 50 years, if you're in a really schools probably gonna stay that way. So you have to adjust and see how your leadership will fit takes a lot of reflection.

Dr. John McKenna  
There's a book by Gene Kranz gets steam called Failure is Not an Option. And there's a concept that he puts forward that says the answer is in the room. And I've always believed in that, that, especially I go back to my time as a building principal. And I would work with the staff, there's so many experts and people in this room that know exactly what they're doing. And so often, they're just not tapped into that power of knowledge and experience and passion that they have. And I think that when you tap into the room, then you tap into that power of all of those people in all that they bring, man, oh, man, that's when an organization it's game changing for what you can achieve and accomplish.

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, I totally agree. And I think as a teacher sitting in these meetings, trying to problem solve, knowing that there's a wealth of information and knowledge sitting in this room not being tapped into is frustrating. And I remember very vividly occasions like that you're describing right now. So John, I want to actually stay in this space for a second because both of you what you're saying is so true, and speak so much truth. But I want to know about that moment, when you receive that feedback, when you get a piece of information that someone is unsatisfied with how you particularly are handling something, what is the process for you? And I'm asking this because it's it is I imagine, you know, someone's listening to this in their car on their way to work. And it's like, okay, what you're saying is great, and cognitively, I'm totally with you. But in that moment, when you're alone, reading that piece of feedback on your computer, what is that process for you? And what is something that somebody can do? That's an actionable step, so they can start to be the change that they want to see and be the leader that they can become?

Dr. John McKenna  
I think it's normal. The first time we see something that's negative against us, I know we probably naturally have a recoiling effect to say that person's wrong. I right. I know I'm right. And I think then it's like we have to intentionally be able to coach ourselves to say no way to say I got to take a step back here, I want to look at this with true lenses and find out where the truth lies, because, and then I started to develop the thing of even if, let's say, I disagree with it with this feedback, or whatever, for one reason or another, they still have that feedback. And that's real to them. So I have to do things to correct that. I have to address it. And I have to make sure that we take all types of constructive advice seriously. 

Dr. John McKenna  
And I say to even if people have a false perception, I want to help if I see oh, did they get their facts and information wrong, I got to work with them in a way so that we can work cooperatively and collegially. And so that they do understand the just because probably if they're not getting it, it's my fault, that they're not getting it. So I have to do work on my end, to make sure that they're receiving the information in a way that I wanted them to. Because as a leader, I want people to receive the information the right way, I want to send a message, right, I'm the messenger, they're the receiver. And you want to make sure that the message you're sending is received correctly. And if for some reason that's not that's why that feedback is good. 

Dr. John McKenna  
Even if you feel I don't know, if I necessarily agree with this, then you have to do more work there, you have to make sure that you get on the same page. And be thankful when you get that because it gives you that opportunity then to work with that person cooperatively to find some middle ground and that because if you don't you know what happens, they then go out and start saying more negative things and negativity starts to grow. So that's why I even got a real positive outlook on receiving this negative feedback because it helps me then do the work that I need to do as a supervisor leader to make things better.

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, yes, yes to all of that. So I have a one follow up question to that. You said coach, my self. And I have a question about for you personally. Is this something you do fully on your own? Or do you also have a community of other leaders, other like minded educators who are also doing this work that you can lean in and lean on?

Dr. John McKenna  
Well thank goodness, there are people like Dr. Poco, my good friend and other colleagues, because it is always very smart to consult with others. And I do that with Dr. Walter all the time, I'll ask him, what do you think, and I know, he's an honest friend. And I know that he'll give me honest advice, sometimes whether I want to hear it or not want to hear it. And I appreciate that. And that makes our friendship strong. But I think he feels the same way about me, if something comes up, he can contact me. And I'll say, well, gee, walt, I kind of agree with this person. And you have to have those honest people who are around you that you can have those constructive conversations with. And it's just so helpful. If you don't, then you know, what happens, you get in a bubble, then you start to just think things the way you think them. And you have to be open minded and get constructive advice from others. And it's good to have a small group of trusted people who you can really talk with.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Yeah, I would like to just go back. And you know, that first reaction and my first reaction in similar situations, is basically, what are these people thinking? What do they know? I am the superintendent. I've got the background experience, I got the education, I got the certification. You people were elected by community, but you know, your knowledge base about these topics? Are you kidding me? And you have that feeling? Are you kidding me? How can you not trust the views that I and my staff have, et cetera, you get that first reaction. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
And I know, and that happened to me the first time I was fired as a superintendent, and then some of the other experiences I've had, but you look back on and you say, you don't want to react, the worst thing you can do is to react publicly to that kind of situation. And don't beat up the dog or anything else. But you can, but you're driving home, you got to learn to frame it and forget it as best as you can. You got to know that you're not going to fight back. It's the fight flight syndrome, you're going to have to deal with it. And you got to maintain your composure. That's one of the key thing, your leadership composure, and recognize, okay, they may be right. I may have been wrong here. What else can I do now you become reflected. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
But yeah, the first shot is a tough shot, it's a shot to your ego. And it really is a major shot to superintendents, because typically they don't have any other support group to work with. Building principals typically will have other principals in the school district, who they can relate to, or even the other cabinet members will have others that they can relate to the superintendent, it's lonely at the top. And research of conducted across the country with superintendents all verify this very much. So it's they don't want to let their issues become publicly known to their colleagues, as they may be looking for a job in some of those districts in the future, too. Okay, so they've got to be somewhat controlled with how much in their own feelings they let out. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
But they need to be sure that they have someone, a critical friend, like John and I were talking about our relationship, a relationship with someone who you can call in another area, to discuss the situation. And it goes back to in my own mind what I did, and I've used that process and tried to help others understand that. The Kubler Ross death and dying steps, the recognize the situation, you need to back off, you're gonna deny it, you got to get to the bargaining stage, you got to say, as John has been identified, maybe there's some truth in that. Maybe I can learn and be a better leader from this kind of feedback. That was a big shock to my system. Yeah.

Dr. John McKenna  
There's a couple of things that really stick out to me, too, that were very helpful to me it really prep some if anyone's watched Ted last. So here's a picture of the John wooden's pyramid of success on his wall. And I love the pyramid of success. Right near the top of the very top is competitive greatness. But right below that is this idea of poise and confidence. And poise is so important. And John Wooden talks about it a lot how important it is for leaders to have employees that you can't overreact. You have to be thoughtful in your responses in what you do. And so many people don't have poise, they just react and they let the emotion get to them and they let emotion rule them. So the best leaders definitely embrace poise before they speak and react. 

Dr. John McKenna  
And then another piece of research that really helped me through the years is Daniel Goleman research on emotional intelligence. I remember reading emotional intelligence and thinking I want that I, I want to be able to have that kind of confidence and that type of self reflection. And reading the work of Goldman really helped me to really work on that aspect. And it is work sometimes that we do have to work on being patient and kind and understanding and we have to be intentional with those types of actions. So those are the things that those kinds of resources through the years helped me and say, help me do self improvement and become a better person.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, that is the work that makes everything else work. It is work. And from where I stand, it is the most important work because patience and love and kindness outwards does not always come easily when your system is feeling attacked. And it doesn't always come easily to yourself, how often are you giving yourself that patience and love and kindness? And how can we possibly expect ourselves to give it outwards if we're not being kind to ourselves, and that work of emotional intelligence is essential. I think for everyone in education, I mean, the world but particularly in education, especially for leaders.

Dr. John McKenna  
I wanted to mention also that I learned some really great lessons from the research and work of Todd Whitaker, that in his book, what great principals do differently. There's a chapter in here that he's called, treat everyone with respect every day, all the time. And if you read it, it talks about how it's a leaders responsibility to show respect at all times. And that's it's an attentional skill that you have to learn as a leader. Because there's people that are going to want to drag you into arguments and drag you into places where you show disrespect, they want you to show disrespect. So you have to know that you have to intentionally treat everyone with respect and professionalism all the time. It's a responsibility that leaders have. 

Dr. John McKenna  
And again, it's one of those things that you learn through the years. But the good thing is, is that you can learn these skills. And personally, I've learned from mistakes through the past where I know I've made some mistakes in the past where I got dragged into some situations where I said, oh my gosh, I'm never doing that again. And you learn and then hopefully, we can share that with Walt Knight was we work with prospective administrators, we try to teach them the skills that, you know, if they're going to be the leaders, they have to exemplify respect, voice, patience, empathy, these are the things that they need to do on a daily basis. I think what you're just talking about, it's a 24/7 responsibility. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
Yeah. One of the things that I try to impress upon my students in, in leadership, and in superintendents, certification programs, and so on, is that you accept this position, you need to recognize it's a 24/7 365 day job. It's more than a job, it's your career, it's you, you are the leader, you are the person now sitting in that chair, him talking about the superintendency, chair, etc, you need to protect the sense of the chair, what it stands for what it has meant, historically to the US educational system. And you know, what's going to happen in the future to it, and you need to respect it and honor it. That's kind of the concept that Ronald Reagan had about the presidency, he never would go into the Oval Office without a suit golden attire, because it was the President's office. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
But you know, super intent, you don't have to necessarily wear a suit, coat and tie, but you need to be sure you respect the position. And understand is 24/7 365 day position. You're the big fish in the goldfish bowl. And people are always watching you, it doesn't matter if you're in front of a board meeting, doing a faculty meeting, or shopping in a local grocery store, or having dinner with your family out. People are watching. And people are saying that's the superintendent, that's the Director of Personnel that they're identifying you with that role. And you need to recognize that I often tell my students be smart, you know, you might have a big holiday party coming up and you're gonna go buy a box of different wines from the liquor store, do that out of your district, don't let somebody see you walking out of that store with a bat and say, there he goes, again, bulk of us be a heavy drinker this week, or some of those other kinds of you have to be aware. That's an important component for us. And leadership is that sense of composure and that sense of awareness of where you are, you're always in that goldfish bowl and people are watching.

Jen Rafferty  
I have a question about that because I had several leadership roles in my district, and as a person in that role, particularly in the music department, because I was in front of the entire community about 30 times a year for concerts, you know, and board meetings and all of the things. And I felt at the time I feel a little bit differently now a lot differently now. But I felt at the time that there was a sense of performativity on my part, that I needed to play this role of somebody who had this leadership position. 

Jen Rafferty  
And that role to me in my minds included things like the way that I dressed, the way that I interacted with people, what I would buy at the grocery store things exactly what you were saying. And I think that there's something too that yes, but I think there's an end. Because the end piece for me is, at the time, I didn't know it. But I felt this incongruence of who I truly was, and could have been as a leader if I were to be authentically me that I limited myself because I was too concerned of what I thought was the expectation of other people. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Walter Polka  
Yeah, well basically, in a book that I did with Pete Liska, and Brian Kelsey, and John knows both of them both former New York superintendents, and we did research related to it, the front cover and the metaphor that we use as a superintendent is like the matador. Matador in the arena. And in the cover, we show a matador and we show the bull coming at him in the matador with a red cape, etc. And then we see over the right hand shoulder is another bowl coming in. Because there's not just one person coming at your leadership. In the arena, there's a number, there's a number of people watching you ready to stampede you, and therefore you're putting on a performance. 

Dr. Walter Polka  
Now how can ruin is that performance with a real you. But that's up to you to decide, you know, and determine that's why sometimes maybe you need a break away from it and go hiking in Colorado mountains or something else to refresh your inner self. But there is a performance factor. Now, I happen to like the performance fact. Okay, one of the hardest things for me to do, moving into higher ed was to simply not have face to face classes, and to do more things online. Because I liked the performance, okay, of teaching and of administering. But then what is your inner self? Are you comfortable with that? And you're absolutely right, Jen, everyone has to find that space,

Dr. John McKenna  
You got to be true to your authenticity to Jen, you're absolutely right. And if you find yourself like in a place where you feel in congruence, and I would tell people to that, you know, try to seek and find the place where you can really find your sweet spot and be yourself. Because that's when the best you will come forward. And that's when your qualities and things that really are in you can be unleashed. And I think sometimes we feel like we're in roles, sometimes in places where we're inhibited. And we have to do certain things certain way that are incongruent with what's in our heart and soul. But I think those are those personal decisions that people have to make to see, are they in the right environment? Or, you know, in this journey of life, right? Do we go down? We find different places, right? We find these different places that bring us satisfaction. And sometimes they last for a while. And sometimes they don't last for a while. Like there's a really good book, though, Who Moved My Cheese? Do you ever read that book?

Jen Rafferty  
I've heard of that book. I haven't read it yet, though.

Dr. John McKenna  
It's a great book, and oh, gosh, I forget the author. It'll come to me, I'll get it in a second. But it's really all about sometimes we find these places, right, where we feel satisfied. And then it changes and we have to adapt and change and move to find the cheese like these mice that define that. And life's kind of like that, where we have to find those places where we feel that we're doing our best work that we're being our authentic selves. And we're making the contributions to the world that we feel were good put on this planet to do.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Jen, I had a epiphany, if you will, 56 years ago now after my first year of teaching, when I came home, and I said to my wife, I'm not so sure. I want to do this. I'm not feeling very confident. I was team teaching with some folks. Couple of them were good, but the whole idea of their expectations didn't fit into my style. They were lecture oriented straight rows. That's what they expected. That was the evaluation. That's the plan book, etc. I said I'm not so sure I want to do this. I'm not so sure this is for me. I think you know, I may give it another year. And I'm going to be myself more. And I didn't know more. I don't know how much more that is now when I look back on it. But I was able to break out of that expectation mold and do some of the things that I enjoy doing more cooperative learning with my students, all the rest of those types of things. Now, this is back in 1968. I mean this is I once got in trouble with a custodian because my room was, it was too hard to sweep the floor, they couldn't go north and south between the aisles because there were no aisles. I had them in circles, you know, that sort of thing. So that you give yourself as much of that freedom as you think you need. And it's worked for me.

Dr. John McKenna  
You know, what I think too Jen is, I think there are a lot of people that feel trapped where they work. And I think that they feel like they're in probably dead end jobs, and they feel that they've got so much potential, it's not being used. But there's fear, and they stay in those jobs. And they stay in those positions because of the fear. They're afraid that if they lose this security, then so they make these compromises where they say out, keep my job and my benefits and keep this income because I'm afraid of losing it. Because if I do, I don't know, there's an unknown future out there that I'm afraid of. It takes a lot of courage for folks to be able to say, I do I have something more inside of me, I feel there's this different place. And yet, I'm gonna go and pursue this other dream. And I might have to lose some things right now. But I really believe that if I follow what's in my Northstar, and what's in my heart, I'm gonna end up where I'm supposed to be. And I'm okay with that. But that's where the courage that people have to really have to follow those dreams, you know, and I get it, I understand where they're probably probably most people feel that they have more inside. And I bet you they feel that they're trapped in a certain place. And they wish they had more opportunities to do more things. 

Dr. John McKenna  
So I encourage everybody out there to believe in your dreams and go like, follow what's in your heart. And I gotta believe that if you find those things that the good Lord puts in us that those things that just call out to us when we're trying to sleep at night and things like that, and tell us there's other things that we should be following and other things we should do want to tell people to go I encourage, you know, follow that Northstar and see where it leads you. Because I think you can find yourself on a pretty cool adventure.

Dr. Walter Polka  
We use a paraphrase of the Martin Luther King letter from the Birmingham Jail, where he basically said, you can do some things that are politic, you can do some things that are good for your ego, you can do some things that are meaningful in terms of economics, etc. But you need to do things that are right, you need to do the right things. But we would add on you need to do the things that are right for you as well. As well as for your organization, you got to feel good about it. Can you look in the mirror in the morning and look in the mirror in the evening and say I did a good job today, I'm gonna do a good job today. And you know what I did? And thank God for that, you know, and it's also moving along with baby steps to get there too. Let's not try radical changes all of a sudden and take risks that might be too crazy for some people. That's the self reflection. Assess where you're at. And how much stretching can I do.

Dr. John McKenna  
Before you make some dramatic changes, you know, you have a plan right, and be ready to go because income is important. And benefits are important. And there are things in people's lives that you do have, especially you know, if you have young ones and fail and folks are taken care of it's a big responsibility. But I think there's something about following what's calling to you inside your heart and soul. And I hope that everybody takes that Jeremy have figured out what that is because like you're saying that debts when you find your authentic self. That's where I gotta believe the treasure lies.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And I think that really understanding that you deserve happiness, you don't have to earn it, you deserve it, because you woke up this morning. And finding a way for you to choose the things in your life that feel aligned. And the places that can grow and stretch with you as you start to change throughout your life. Giving yourself permission to change and giving yourself permission to again, be vulnerable. Going back to the very beginning of our conversation. Being the example as a leader, as your most authentic self is a part of knowing who you are. And that's really what kind of been circling around this whole conversation. So I love all of it.

Dr. Walter Polka  
It means that your emotions show, so be it. You need to have the tears with others, you need to have the joys with others, you need to have those experiences.

Jen Rafferty  
You're right. I mean if it means you want to have purple highlights in your hair, it means you want to have a tattoo on your arm, you know what I mean? These are the things you know if you want to listen to 90 ska music on your way to work, this is all great and this allows other people to feel safe to be their most authentic selves too in your organization.

Dr. John McKenna  
And I think leadership has a big part to do as too Jen. And Walt and I we try to you know, in our leadership program, we try to develop these types of qualities and the leaders that we're working with that they'll appreciate people's individuality and help people to find, you know, we don't want leaders who are going to like, hold people down. We want to develop leaders who are there to unleash all the powers and talents that are within people. And we want hopefully leaders who can create atmospheres that inspire people and motivate people. 

Dr. John McKenna  
And it can happen with the right leadership can unleash so many great talents in people that instead of making people feel like, oh, God, I gotta go to work today. They say, wow, I gotta go to work today. And I think that it's really leadership is a big part of creating those cultures and atmosphere that really helps people feel inspired to wake up and go to work.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, so with that being said, this is a question I asked all of my guests. What is your dream for the future of education?

Dr. John McKenna  
Well, it's not just education. It's just kind of a mantra that I've tried to live by is, I want to help create a world where people are kind, caring, and empathetic, where they treat each other way they'd like to be treated, that they believe in a greater good, other than themselves. That's kind of like my motto that I try to live by. So if we can, the things that we do if they help create that type of an atmosphere in the world, that's what I'm behind.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Mine as well, I certainly believe in trying to help others gain a better understanding of our world, of our differences, of the kinds of services that we have. But one of the my key goals for the future is to help others achieve their goals. What I say to all my students is I've had a very robust career. I've enjoyed the journey. Yes, it's had its ups and downs. You know, I've gone through experiences where my hair became grayer, my weight became greater, my height became lower, because of the heavy burdens, all the rest of that stuff. But it's been a great career, I encourage others to do it. And I want to help as many people as I can to achieve their goals, so that we can have a better educated, a better focus community. And like John's talking about.

Dr. John McKenna  
I know when I reflect back on years, you know, when I was a principals, principal for 23 years, I always wanted every day that all of the students and teachers and parents of that school, to think this is the greatest place in the world. I wanted them to think that this was just a wonderful, wonderful place. And I wanted every kid to think their school was the best school on the planet. And I wanted every teacher to think, wow, I love working in this place, and the hope that you can create that type of environment where people have those kinds of feelings. 

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. So good. So after this conversation, I know people are gonna want to learn more about you and the books that you've written, and the presentations you're presenting at and the conferences you're going to where can people learn more about you? And how can they get in touch?

Dr. John McKenna  
Oh that, you know, I think one of the best ways to pre ignite university right to my email is JohnMcKenna@McKennaLeadership.com And I know Walt's, a professor at Niagara as well. And people contact us at the university all the time.

Dr. Walter Polka  
And my email is wpolka@niagara.edu. And, or they can call us, I give my students my phone number. And I tell them, you can call me anytime from 10am to 10pm. You could call me early if you need to. But you know, now that I'm more, more retired, my phone number is 716-425-1860. And you can either phone me or text me.

Dr. John McKenna  
And I've got my own personal website to add me on mckennaleadership.com so people can always reach out to me through that as well. And given phone numbers on 716939034 or 5, give me a call.

Jen Rafferty  
Fantastic. And I know the links to all of that, as well as information about your books will all be in the show notes. So it'd be super easy for people to learn more, get your books, get in touch. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been a really robust and potent conversation. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Dr. Walter Polka  
Well, we appreciate you too, Jen. It's been wonderful.

Dr. John McKenna  
Thank you, Jen. Appreciate it.

Jen Rafferty  
So if you enjoyed today's episode, which I know that you did, make sure that you write a five star review, share with a friend and we'll see you next time on Take Notes. Incredible, right? Together, we can revolutionize the face of education. It's all possible. And it's all here for you right now. Let's keep the conversation going at Empowered Educator Faculty Room on Facebook.