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Want to Be a Successful Leader? Learn to “ARM” Yourself


Successful leaders who I have met and learned a great deal from over the years have shared a common trait; the ability to be strategic in their thoughts, their decisions and their actions. Not manipulative, but mindful not to minimize the impact they can have on others, especially students, parents and staff.  They recognize the importance of thinking ahead in order to determine and plan for what they believe will be the result of their comments, decisions or actions or whether or not their words or actions can influence others enough to change behaviors and deep rooted attitudes.

This past week I had the privilege of spending the morning with Mark Luque, Associate Superintendent for Bakersfield Community School District. It was clear from our conversation that Mark is a leader who not only takes great pride in his work, but is able to clearly articulate a common vision of what it will take for BCSD to successfully move forward with a plan that will ensure success for all 30,000 plus students. He spoke passionately and in great detail about the district’s focus on teaching and learning, specifically in the areas of Common Core, ELA, Literacy Instruction, Assessment, Family Engagement and Technology.  Mark’s ability to provide specific details of how the team planned to move forward in a strategic manner demonstrated a clear understanding of the importance of thoughtfully thinking through every scenario in order to best position his team and district to achieve the results their students and staff deserve.

Successful leaders, like Mark, don’t walk into situations unarmed or in other words, not having taken the time to think through a scenario which may have the potential to unravel. Rather, they ARM themselves with their thoughts, words, and actions long before they interact with any member of their school community in order to bring their best and create win-win situations for everyone involved.




A – Acknowledge: Successful people enter every conversation focused on the other person recognizing that their relationships with others is the most important factor in cultivating a culture of trust and influence. Take time to invest not only your time and energy, but your concern in an empathetic way.  Approach each situation with an understanding that at the heart of every problem is a conversation to be had. You must recognize that even your best attempt at acknowledging someone else’s feelings or position will at times not produce the results you were hoping for, leaving you at a loss for answers. Find solace in knowing that you were intentional and sincere in your efforts.

R – Rectify: Strong leaders recognize that those who are overwhelmed and “drowning” often times are working harder than others. Focused leaders are able to bring a sense of calmness to an individual who is thrashing desperately even though they too may be paddling non-stop below the surface.  Do this by communicating and modeling the importance of resolving the dilemma of given what you have, you will still make the best of every situation in order to meet the needs of others, regardless of their role in the process.  Be willing to accept that it is not always yours to “fix,” and at times it will require you to leave others to contemplate their own behavior and leave it to them to resolve.

M – Move On: Effective leaders have a unique ability to accept their circumstances and move on rather than spend time and energy dwelling on things that are beyond their control. In specific cases where you have played a part in creating the problem, it is crucial that you quickly take responsibility for the issue by admitting your role and apologizing for your error. Remember, the best leaders don’t stigmatize mistakes made by themselves or others because they don’t want to create a culture whereby students or staff ever fear making them. Failure is often the first ingredient in the recipe for success.


On occasion a school or district leader will find her or himself in a complicated situation that needs their immediate attention. That is just the nature of the role somedays. However, let’s be sure not to paint a negative picture that we are tired because we end up in a complex place every now and then. No educator is immune from such hardships. Effective leaders like Mark and others know that they will find themselves exhausting every moment in their quest to support teachers and students alike in their learning, but they also have learned to refresh each of those experiences in a strategic way to improve their chances for success.

How have they done this?

By simply remembering to “ARM” themselves.


  • kate
    1 year ago

    Excellent advice–to ARM–before entering meetings, making decisions.

    Thanks for the concise info.

  • Liz Erwin
    1 year ago

    So much wisdom for school leadership, but also for daily relationships with family and self. Thank you.

  • Dominic
    1 year ago


    Thanks for sharing. I am an aspiring Principal and I am always drawn to great advice from practicing Principals. I think it is important to be proactive instead of reactive in a leadership position. Knowing that I am ARMed to help during any situation is calming and creates confidence in my decisions.

    Thanks for sharing!!


  • Sean Williams
    1 year ago

    Hey Jimmy,

    This was a very good read! After meeting you in Vegas, I came back home to Alabama inspired, focused, and ready to make a difference! This hasn’t changed, but only grown into an unwavering stance in my mind of how I should develop myself and those around me, nurture the desired culture, and give affirmations appropriately.

    ~ Sean Williams, Vice Principal of Oakwood Adventist Academy, Huntsville, Alabama

  • Donna
    1 year ago

    I appreciate the ARM principles and especially align with the heart of listening and understanding the “acknowledge” emphasis. Leaders need to listen to the message of their audience to support and discern their needs to then rectify and make the plan to move on…. Thank you for sharing!

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