Citizen of the world yet Québécois and Canadian at heart, Philippe Caron-Auget is an international educator who has worked in Switzerland, Czech Republic, Qatar, France, Gabon, Cameron, and Nigeria. Over the course of his seven years spent in Tunisia, he embarked on his leadership journey. Risk-taker, inquirer, and adept at vulnerability, he’s been inspired by Michael Fullan, Patrick Lencioni, Rick Wormeli, Elena Aguilar, and Benjamin Zander. In 2018, Philippe joined a world-class team of fierce and resilient Blue Terriers at the International School of Boston, where he now serves as Secondary School Director.
Daniel (00:02): Nice guys finish last. Keep the emotion out of it. You need to separate the personal from the professional. When you were a novice principal, what was the hardest point of feedback that you received? What was an unhelpful message in those early days for today's guest, Philippe he was told by somebody who he cared about deeply, you are too kind to be a school leader, and that's where we will start today's conversation with Philippe. We'll also talk about how he's grown over the years, leveraging compassion and empathy to influence his leadership. Hey, it's Daniel, and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors.
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Daniel (02:16): Well, welcome to the show Philippe.
Philippe (02:19): Hi, Danny. How are you?
Daniel (02:20): I am doing great. I've enjoyed working with you for a while. Now. We got to hang out with our partners and enjoy a beautiful dinner in beautiful in New Orleans. You're just a great, you're just a great guy. I always admire and appreciate how thoughtful you are, and you have tons of compassion and it comes through in your communication with me and that always brings a smile to my face. So I'd like to just start our conversation with a thank you.
Philippe (02:43): Thank you, Danny. I mean, it's reciprocal as it's going both ways. I've learned a lot from you and I appreciated the help and support over the last few years, for sure.
Daniel (02:55): So compassion can sometimes be confused with kindness and you have a story that I've heard, but I'd love for the Ruckus Maker listening to here. Somebody told you Philippe, you are too kind, too kind to be a leader. Tell us about that story.
Philippe (03:11): Actually, the exact words where you are not tough enough to be a school principal and that's just woke up a lot of insecurities in me that I think I dragged along for many years and now I finally freed myself of. To give you a bit of context I was a gay teenager that got bullied during my adolescence. It was not easy and one of the things that is often said to teenagers in the same situation is you're too feminine. You're not tough enough. You're not hard enough. So I had that stigma that I was carrying with me. Another piece of information that you should know about is that being a school leader was not a childhood dream of mine. I didn't think it was particularly sexy to be a secondary school principal.
Philippe (04:12): It's something that came as a result of many experiences and people telling me, "Oh, you're good at this. You should take on this responsibility." One responsibility leads to another and I think that's how most of us end up where we are. I was, at a time, in Tunisia and I had moved there from the International School of Prague, especially to take on a leadership position as head of the world language department. After a few years there my head of school was happy with my work and he said, "why don't you become the high school coordinator? I did that for two or three years, and then something terrible happened to our biggest client because it's a private school that left us almost overnight. The African Bank of Development relocated to Abidjan and I repost.
Philippe (05:01): All of a sudden we lost 35% of our student body. We had to let go of a lot of teachers, including the second new school principal at the time. My head of school approached me at the time and said, "how would you feel about taking on this new role? We'll play with the title, we'll give you the training that you need, We'll send you the principal training center and then you can help our community and your peers and make it through this difficult time. I accepted after long deliberations and careful thoughts. Just a few weeks later a friend of mine was actually an English teacher at the time, a very kind woman, I don't think she realized what she was saying at the time, but I guess my reputation in the school was that I was quite a compassionate and kind person in spite of all my responsibilities.
Philippe (06:00): And that's when she told me that I wasn't tough enough to be a school director or a school principal. It's struck a chord that stayed with me for many years and I was always doubting myself and thinking that I was not authoritarian enough or dominant enough in my approach of leadership and then I met you and I became part of the better leaders, better schools circle. We did a lot of readings. I got to know other school leaders and I realized that not everybody is super dynamic and authoritative in their approach. As a matter of fact, if that's your only mode of operating, it can be quite detrimental to a school community. So I, since moved on to a different school. I'm now at the international School at Boston. I've been a principal for, this is my third year now.
Philippe (06:54): Last year, I think halfway through the year, one of my teachers, my learning support specialists came to me and said, Philippe, you are very kind and visual, and this is why you are so good at what you do. She cured me of the curse at that particular moment. It was like, yes, I can be true to myself. I can be authentic and be appreciated for what I am and what I do. Those were two little moments, like when sometimes we don't realize how much impact we have on somebody else. But those sentences that really changed the course of my life in different directions.
Daniel (07:36): The thing about that is the feedback is somewhat similar, right? Talking about your kindness and compassion and one colleague seeing that as a negative and the other's seeing it as a superpower. To follow that arc and like you said, I wish the Ruckus Maker listening could see your face. As you said, the curse was lifted. You really had a huge smile and the room was lit up. This is really, really interesting to me. There's been a bit of a journey for you and what steps, I guess, have you taken to be more confident? It was nice that that colleague said that at your current school, but I've seen your confidence grow much longer, before you received that comment. So talk to us a little bit about that journey and just growing in your confidence.
Philippe (08:32): I think the lack of confidence, when you move on to such a big responsibility is to be expected. I think we have to be full of forgiveness because it's a journey. As you mentioned, it doesn't happen overtime. We go from one job that we are doing very well because we've been doing it for many years. As a teacher, a classroom teacher, we reach the top of the curve. We are at the top of our game and then all of a sudden we decide to take on a completely different job, yes it still has to do with education, but it is also learning how to lead, learning how to have meetings, learning how to have difficult conversations, learning how to hold people accountable, and how to delegate. Those are not things that we are born with, but those are things that can be learned.
Philippe (09:20): Through readings, through conversation with fear, through the Mastermind, through conferences that I attended, I realized that there was a way to get good at this. I think I realized that I had the necessary values and the necessary core in order to grow the other things and that happens over time. It's important to be kind to ourselves because we have a tendency as educators, regardless of where you are in the structure of the school, we set the bar very high. We want what's best for the kids so when we see ourselves, we're not performing as well as we wish we had. It's easy to fall into the pit of beating ourselves up and that's not solving anything that's very self indulging. So I'm a big fan of runaround and I didn't watch a lot of oral presentations and read the book dare to lead.
Philippe (10:21): One thing that I've realized becoming a leader and what most new leaders probably do not realize is the amount of work that one has to do on him or herself in order to be good at that job. Yes, you need to lead meetings and you need to have strategic strategies, the organizing stuff, but you also need to practice mindfulness. You need to write a journal or you need to have a healthy lifestyle. You have to make it a point of walking in nature over the weekend. You have to make it a point of exercising in one way or another. You have to take some time to disconnect from technology and from the screen. Without those things, without those strategies, it is very hard to exude the confidence, the calmness and the positive attitudes that are necessary in any school.
Daniel (11:17): You said a lot there. In terms of growing in your confidence and authenticity, I'll try to reflect back. You talked about books and conferences. You talked about the Mastermind, which we'll discuss later, journaling, being outside in nature, mindfulness unplugging from technology, So I think that gives the Ruckus Maker listening a great understanding and picture of what it means to work on oneself. How does that live out in your life? Is it something you need to schedule? Is it something that you're just aware of? Like, I need these cups filled every day and it doesn't have to be every cup of maybe a little bit here and a little bit there, but how do you approach those things?
Philippe (12:07): The one thing that I need in order to be good at what I do is to take the weekend to get away. Every month I schedule it, I talk to my partner about it. We take the dog with us and we discover down in Massachusetts or prior to that it was in Tunisia or in Europe. We make sure that we disconnect for two or three days and it's an investment. Yes, It costs a little bit of money, but for me, it's so worth it to be able to walk in nature, talk with people, strangers just get a sense of what life is outside of AGU. As I said earlier, we're all very intense and demanding on ourselves and it's good. It's for me, it's been extremely crucial to disconnect as least once a month in some way or another.
Daniel (12:59): Gotcha. So once a month, you're going away somewhere to explore a new town or get outside and to get away from work, if I'm understanding you, correct? Let's say the last six months or so of what's been the most pleasant place that you've visited or somewhere you went, you didn't expect it to be so amazing, but it really wowed you with the experience.
Philippe (13:29): That's a great question, Danny because it happened just last weekend, my partner, and I decided at the very last minute to go somewhere and we weren't sure where to go. So I stayed up late and looked at Google maps and looked for hotels and bed and breakfast. We decided to drive an hour or so to a place called New Bedford here in New England. People have a tendency to go either to the coast of Maine or Cape Cod. New Bedford is known as an industrial city with a large Portuguese community. More of a mix of liberal and Republican. It's very different from Boston. We went down there and as soon as we set foot there people started talking to us, where are you from? At the restaurant people are engaging. There was an old woman who took me by the arm and she walked me outside to that gorgeous building with thin glasses and antique doors and floors as she described it.
Philippe (14:33): She said, this is where I went to high school. When she found out that I was an educator, it was so important for her to show me her high school and that brightened up my day. Later on over the course, we saw people dancing outside of course, socially distant way, but just so full of light. And they have a great whaling museum with real life ships, real life whales. They talked about whaling in different countries around the world and what are the commonalities and the differences. And then the following day was spent swimming in the water because I found a little bit where the water was still warm enough to go have a swim and that just did it. I came back that evening and I was ready for the week ready for the month ahead of me.
Daniel (15:32): Beautiful. Now I think their tourism's gonna blow up there, but I appreciate you describing that getaway for us. Speaking again, in a way we're gonna pause here and get away from our conversation just for a second. I'm going to pause for a message from our sponsors,but when we come back to Philipe, I'd love to talk about trust, learn the framework skills and knowledge.
Daniel (15:55): You need to drive change improvement in your learning community with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership, a joint collaboration between the Harvard graduate school of education and Harvard business school connect and collaborate with fellow school leaders. As you address your problems of practice in our online professional development program apply email@example.com/leader. That's @hgse.me/leader. SMART has an incredible research backed tool that allows you as a leader to self-assess your capabilities at the school level or broader to help you with planning and prioritizing discovering your strengths and best area of focus across five different modules, including leadership and remote learning.
Daniel (16:49): The tool inspires collaboration with your colleagues and provides massive value. Whether you complete one or all five in the modules, you'll get a personalized report that shows where you stack up against other Ruckus Makers and map some areas of focus that will have the greatest impact for you. Take 10 minutes and get started with this tech assessment tool. Today. I suggest beginning with the strategic leadership module, check it out@SMARTtech.com/profile. That's SMART tech.com/profile. Today's show is brought to you by organized binder, organized binder develops the skills and habits. All students need success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom, firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcome back to the show. I'm here with my friend Philippe and we dug really deep into what it means to be kind and compassionate as a leader and to reframe it right as a liability, to actually a superpower. So thank you for taking us there. I'd love to talk to you about trust. I know you believe that trust comes with time. What have you learned now as a school leader about building trust within your community?
Philippe (18:20): I think it happened when I moved from Tunisia where I was a known quantity. So I went from being a department head and then a coordinator and to a leadership role to moving to Tunisia where I was an unknown quantity and people, the person that I was replacing had left, she had transformed this school. So I had big shoes to fill. I was told that many times, and when you enter a new school and my friend, Eileen confirmed that people are very anxious to see whether you're going to want to change everything. They are looking at you, you are under scrutiny to a certain extent. Everybody wants to know what the new guy is going to be about and what he's going to do. It's hard when you have to build those relationships, build that trust because it does not, as I said, it does not come naturally or easy people need proof that you are someone that can be trusted.
Philippe (19:23): I think there's the marble jar analogy. You put marbles one at a time in the jar but the jar can easily be broken or emptied. Uho that's one way I've been learning about it. Also. I think it's Running Ground that talks about the fact that we cannot demand trust. It's not something that can be required or demanded. If you're going to stand in front of a group and say, I need you to trust me on this that cannot be done on the first day, the first week one could argue the first year when people see your patterns, if you are consistent in your approach and the way you communicate in the way you are present, visible and the way you handle difficult, difficult conversations, issues as they arise, then trust will come. That's so important and the people that are the most, just like in a classroom, , we often say, that's the kid that I struggled with the most, that became my best student five years later, the one that reached out to me and said, Oh, I remember you. The way you told us that we were like, I don't want to say the S word, but told us to be quiet in a forceful way, that's the kid that's gonna remember you. It's the same with team members, the ones that are a little reluctant to see you come in, I'll eventually become your strongest allies. It's important to surround yourself with people who do not share your views on things. A sign of a strong leader that the more you have people around you that have different perspectives and see the way the world differently, the better you are, because you need to be exposed to those different opinions as early in the game as possible. You don't want that to happen when you are about to only feel the final result.
Daniel (21:28): Yeah, it definitely helps you identify blind spots and weak spots in your strategy and plan. I appreciate detractors as well because when they critique, the challenge is a leader is not to take it personally and find the truth. Maybe a lot of what they're seeing is garbage maybe, but there might be a kernel of truth there as well. When you find it, now you have an opportunity to serve, to answer questions, to offer professional development, to get them on the same page, so to speak because you've solved, whatever was holding them back from being all in. I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about that. I don't know if you have a specific story in mind where one of your detractors or critics became one of your strongest allies, but they did. That's a counterintuitive leadership thought and you said something too, like not to create a team with people that just agree with you. Get different opinions in the room. I couldn't agree more, but can you riff on that a little bit?
Philippe (22:30): Well, I don't know if I can give you one specific example, but I know even in terms of my personal life, and I think it's the same for most people, our best brands, the people that we value the most are people that have been with us for a long time. The people that you can count on people that don't always tell you what you want to hear. Those are real friends and it's the same in the workplace. Good teammates are, don't shy away from disagreeing with one another because it's part of life. I'm always worried about teams or groups or schools, because this is the many where everybody's singing the same tune. It's important that we are able to express opinions in terms of, yeah, that's what I would have to say.
Daniel (23:24): Thank you, Philippe. I don't always have a Mastermind member on the show, but I'm lucky that I do have you today. I'd love to hear your experience a bit maybe for the Ruckus Maker listening. They don't quite understand what it is that we do, but in your words, what is the Mastermind? What's been the value of this community to you and your leadership?
Philippe (23:51): So many, so many in the Mastermind, there's something called the hot seat. Once every six weeks you get to share a situation that you are facing and then people will jump in and give you, usually they ask for clarity questions for clarification, first clarifying questions and then they'll give different solutions. They push you in your thinking, which is exactly what you need in those situations, because we often are stuck at one level and many people do challenge our thinking and that's been extremely useful as well as the readings because we get so caught up in life, having a group of people that is holding you accountable for pursuing professional development and reading books that's been a savior. It's been fantastic. Another exercise that you led us through, Danny is the why. And I think it was attached to developing objectives and key results, but the importance of finding your purpose and why is it that you do what you do because, and it takes, it takes a little while first to agree with the idea that you need, that kind of motto or a sentence.
Philippe (25:07): I know yours, Danny is to fight isolation among leaders. I have found that to be so true that we need someone that is fighting isolation among leaders because it can be a very lonely place to be when you don't have anyone to connect. The second is finding the actual wording of your why, of your purpose. When you do find it, it's a life-changer and mine is to create safe spaces where people can belong, attract, achieve and grow. Once I was able to identify that, it has explained every decision that I had made along the way. When I have other decisions to make, I can refer back to that statement and say, well, am I remaining true to myself, to my why, to my personal mission statement as I move through the daily life?
Daniel (26:00): Yeah. I didn't know that we would end up with that story. So that's your compass and it's a filter, like you said, for all your decisions and to have that motivation. There's a quote by Victor Franco who wrote Man's Search for Meaning. He says that men are pushed by their drives, but pulled by their values. And I think that that's why that you were describing is that pulling of values. When the going gets tough it's easy to show up as a great leader when everything's going your way, but when real life real leadership happens and you're able to navigate that and still be authentic, right. It doesn't mean you're going to be perfect, but you're happy with how you showed up. That's a powerful tool. So Bravo to you for sharing that for identifying it that was generous. So thank you. At the end of every show Philipe, I love to ask the same two questions and I am greatly anticipating how you'll answer these, what message would you put on all school marquees across the globe, if you could do so for just one day,
Philippe (27:10): Stop being so hard on yourself.
Daniel (27:12): And now Philippe, you're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?
Philippe (27:27): I would build it in nature. I have discovered the power of nature. We have a nature classroom in my school, especially nowadays, it would be a number one priority for me to make sure that we're surrounded by nature. Number two, I would hand pick the people that I bring in that space because good learning goes to good quality faculty, world class faculty. And for me, it's all about the people. It's always been all about the people. Lastly, I would make sure that there are not too many rigid structures. I find that often we are limited by schedules, by timetables, by standardized, by our government regulation. I would love to see a school where it's all about students' agency. They decide what they want to learn about with our guidance. If they want to investigate black lives matter. If they want to discuss global warming, we are able to completely interrupt, what we're doing and jump on it and have them take the lead on their learning because that for me is much better results than forcing people, students that specifically, we learn things that they, that they have no interest in or no ownership.
Daniel (28:52): Well, Philippe, thank you for being a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Philippe (29:04): Stop being so hard on yourself.
Daniel (29:08): Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Makers. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel at better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter at alien earbud. If the better leaders and better schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership @betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time until then class is dismissed.
- Trust comes with time
- Critical ways to disconnect from the intense demand of leadership each month
- Leveraging compassion and empathy to influence leadership
- Detractors will become your strongest allies
- A sign of a strong leader and what you need to be exposed to early
- Sentences that really change the course of your life
- Practice mindfulness to support your strategic strategies
“We cannot demand trust. It’s not something that can be required or demanded. If you’re going to stand in front of a group and say, ‘I need you to trust me on this’ … that cannot be done on the first day or the first week. The first year is when people see your patterns, if you are consistent in your approach then the trust will come.”
– Philippe Caron-Audet
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