To the Loyal Members of the BLBS Tribe (aka Ruckus Makers):

I started the tradition of writing a letter to the tribe in 2017. Shane Parrish of Farnam Street inspired me. This year I read a book titled The Bezos Letters which encouraged me to continue with this important practice.

Ruckus Makers do not own shares in Better Leaders Better Schools, but my work is for you and as you already know, this quote guides everything: 

“Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.”

Thank you for the time, attention, and financial resources you invest in yourself and BLBS. Without you, BLBS would be nothing and I am grateful for your support.

The practice of writing this letter is to publicly be accountable to Ruckus Makers and reflect on the past year, 2019. 

Past letters are available here: 2017 & 2018.

Thank you for making 2019 a wonderful year for me and the organization.

Vivid Vision Updates

I wrote my first Vivid Vision in 2018, which is a 3-year roadmap for my personal, family, and organizational life. It has impacted me in such profound ways I started coaching both school and business leaders in creating their own Vivid Visions. In fact, so many leaders have found this tool useful, that it inspired the first BLBS live event (more on that later).

Since writing my Vivid Vision I have enjoyed incredible clarity and peace. 

Seneca wrote about this ages ago:

“Tranquility can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgment — the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in a state of alternatively rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide — common opinion.”

If you are sick of the back and forth and would like to enjoy the focus and peace I have experienced after creating a Vivid Vision, then consider attending my live event in the summer of 2020. 

Reviewing the Vivid Vision, it is amazing to see how much of it has already occurred. I’ll update some of these metrics throughout this letter. 

You can read my December 31, 2021 Vivid Vision here.

This extensive post is on crafting a meaningful vision and includes a free video course on creating a Vivid Vision (but I do suggest joining me in Taos, New Mexico this summer so we can work on your vision together with other Ruckus Makers).

The Dashboard

In 2019 I consistently used a dashboard measuring important indicators that drive BLBS forward. 

These metrics were broken into the following categories: Students, Platforms, Productivity, and Finances.

The Dashboard helps me create the letter to the tribe and reflect on the year

The Mastermind

The Mastermind had another successful year growing from 47 to 56 members. We still have an international reach and the trust, candor, and support found in our community is unmatched. I am reminded each week why this work matters and get to see why this is the world’s greatest PD for school leaders in the world. 

Leadership isn’t taught in universities or districts. We teach leadership in the mastermind and help our members solve their greatest challenges. 

In 2019 we didn’t launch any new masterminds for school leaders. However, we did create a brand new mastermind for “edupreneurs” (business leaders in the education industry). This has been an exciting group to serve and nurture. If these businesses do well, education does well because their products and services help so many students and educators worldwide. 

In 2020, the goal of launching new mastermind cohorts led by my second-in-command, Dr. Kelly Crane remains. She joined the team last year and adds incredible value. As a retired Superintendent she has a lens for education that I lack. Kelly has created interesting content on the podcasts and has brought great insights to BLBS in the mastermind as well as 1:1 coaching. I look forward to her role growing in 2020 as we look to serve more leaders. 

The Podcasts

BLBS solidified its position as the category king of conversations focused on education and leadership. The average monthly download was 27,500 (through November 29, 2019). We also broke 30K downloads in a month for the first time and did it 3x (July, August, & September). In 2018 there were 241K total downloads. I estimate that BLBS will reach 331K in 2019 — a 37% increase in total downloads. 

This year I hired a podcast coach which challenged me to level up. This challenge impacted me in a few ways:

  • I created an ideal guest profile which makes it much easier to say Yes or No to potential guests.
  • The profile also helped me shift gears — in 2020 I will talk more to Ruckus Makers who have taken action from ideas they learned from the show as well as highlighting the great work of current Mastermind members (this strategy worked as a number of the Top 25 podcast episodes are current mastermind members).
  • I now conduct an intro call with each potential guest. This is a second filter. If a guest does not do well here, they do not get on the show. The intro call also helps me explain the vision for the show and how the guest can add the most value to my listeners.
  • I changed the intro music to make it more upbeat and fun.
  • I started telling more stories to preview the content for the listener. 

The School Leadership Series (SLS) went through some significant changes as well. I updated the podcast cover, working with my friend and co-altMBA coach, Michael Smith. I wanted Michael to design something aligned to my brand and reflecting the diversity of our SLS team. Here is what he designed:

SLS Podcast cover was updated in 2019

I absolutely love what Michael created and think he knocked it out of the park. He is currently working on a podcast cover redesign for BLBS coming out in Season 2 launching in January 2020. 

This year in the mastermind I challenged leaders to reconsider traditions at their school. Traditions in themselves are not bad, but often they were designed for a student, teacher, and community member of the past. I also believe that many traditions promote racist and prejudiced systems that need to be reconsidered. But what does that look like in my context? What tradition could I rethink in a 4-year old company? 

It looked like this: why did I have to host my own podcast? 

I realized that if I really do care about women in leadership and leaders of color, where do I see that in my podcasts? As noted in the ideal guest profile I prefer to interview women in leadership and leaders of color. It’s been my lived experience that it is more challenging to attract this avatar to create a show with me; it is much easier to get a white male on the podcast. So the other way I could live up to my core values was to form a team — a group of extraordinary leaders (like The Avengers) who would host the SLS podcast with me. 

In 2019 I formed this group. We met for a 2.5-hour meeting in the summer — getting to know each other, dreaming about the show, and actually creating and providing feedback to make episodes better. Then we went away for 4 weeks to record. In 30 days we recorded 90% of the entire 19-20 SLS podcast series. This has been my proudest accomplishment this year. 

I think listeners have responded as well. In 2018 the podcast was downloaded a total of 49K times. In 2019 I project it will reach 111K downloads — a 127% increase!

Sponsors

BLBS had three sponsors in 2019. 

I only have promoted brands that I trust and I am proud to have increased the exposure of my sponsors in 2019.

Website Redesign

2019 marked the 4th year of operation for BLBS. I have been running it full time since July 2017 (2.5 years). Since its inception, I have had 3 roles: Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician. As the business matures, my goal is to do only what I can do which is to move the organization forward and coach a limited number of leaders. As a “technician” I have done everything behind the scenes since 2015 including every aspect of website design. 

The website needed a major upgrade and it got one. I worked with Derek and Jessie at Hit Your Mark Media and was very pleased with the final result. A number of Ruckus Makers wrote in that they noticed the change as well. 

You can visit the new website here.

And for fun, you can look at an archived version of the website here.

Go! Community

Last year I interviewed 50 school leaders to understand their biggest challenges and what they have done to solve it.

Some issues that rose to the top of the list: being an authentic leader, focus, creating a vision, productivity. 

To solve these issues I could have created individual courses (which I did) and offered them on-demand to the tribe (I did not do). Instead, I created all the courses Ruckus Makers said they needed and offered them all in one place called the Go! Community. There are currently over 130 members and I know it would grow a lot faster if I hired someone to market the community and/or started running ads. The goal was to over-deliver value (which I also did). Inside Go! is not only access to all the courses I created, it also has: a book club, weekly writing prompts, resources you can steal and implement today, and so much more. Plus — it has a powerful network of innovative leaders ready to connect. 

Creating Go! is an ongoing experiment. It takes an incredible amount of energy to create the content and get members to contribute as well. I’m not 100% sure what the future looks like for Go!. I may explore doing separate leadership “sprints” with very clear start and end dates as an alternative. 

Either way, it was a fun experiment to run and I know members have gotten more value than what they invested in the community when it launched in July. 

New Book

I have three book proposals in with major publishers in 2019 and started relationships with senior editors at a number of companies. I am still very interested in self-publishing and prefer it for the creative agency and speed it offers. Shipping a book in collaboration with an established publisher will happen in 2020. I want to learn from their process and welcome the number of doors it would open for me in the future. I believe working with a publisher will lead to more speaking opportunities which is the final tool in my tool belt I am developing.

Speaking

In 2018, I only spoke at 1 event in Chicago with Jethro Jones and Will Parker. 

In 2019, I spoke at 4 events:

  • Boston at the National Principal Conference with two mastermind peers: Colin Hogan and Chris Jones
  • Forsyth Georgia — leading 2 breakout sessions for 200 leaders.
  • NOLA — leading a full-day leadership retreat for an entire charter school leadership team
  • Tabernacle, NJ — The Rewire Conference 

I am 83.5% sure that my wife and I will move back to the USA in the Fall of 2020 and I will aggressively look for speaking engagements when HQ is back home. 

Live Event

BLBS will host its first-ever live event in Taos, New Mexico this summer (July 9-11, 2020). We are calling it “Bollingen Tower.”

Over 2 days, leaders will meet other Ruckus Makers, work with me, and craft a 3-year roadmap for their personal, family and organizational life. I have experienced so much success creating a Vivid Vision I had to make it available to more leaders. Even though I give away many of the ideas for free on the blog and podcast, many leaders don’t prioritize the time to craft a Vivid Vision. 

By establishing a date and creating an event where the sole purpose is to create a Vivid Vision, I am excited to help (up to) 50 leaders create their own masterpiece. 

Bollingen Tower is in a beautiful location of the USA, ideal for removing distractions and unplugging from the daily pressure of our jobs — exactly what leaders need in order to focus on the hard work of crafting a meaningful vision.

You can register for Bollingen Tower here

Did I accomplish what I set out to do in 2019?

Here is what I said I’d like to accomplish in 2019 (and if I did):

  • Fill my mastermind with 60 heroic school leaders (close — we have 56 in our community).
  • Grow to 10, 1:1 clients (currently 8).
  • Launch the mastermind 2.0 with a new coach, new members, and available on new days/times (Kelly is a new coach and is ready to go — apply to the mastermind here).
  • Plan my first live event and host it in 2019 or early 2020 (planned — register here).
  • Start my second book (3 proposals submitted to publishers).
  • ​Host the School Leadership Series 10% or less of the time creating space for ​under-represented voices (formed a team of 12 that created episodes alongside me).
  • Create a new course, workshop, etc. for school leaders based on the 50 calls I have scheduled for November — December 2018 (created the Go! community).
  • Stop obsessing around vanity metrics. Who cares about downloads, number of followers, retweets, etc.? I’m going to be laser-focused on providing world-class content for the smallest number of school leaders possible. And we’ll change the world as a result (reading this over I just removed Twitter and LinkedIn followers from my dashboard).

What’s in store for 2020?

  • Maintain 60 members in my personal mastermind and launch new cohorts led by Kelly Crane.
  • Double my speaking events in 2020.
  • Successfully execute a live event and plan a new one for 2021. 
  • Finish writing 2nd book. 
  • Grow to 10, 1:1 clients. 
  • Offer 1-2 “sprint” sessions that will benefit leaders (I currently have built a productivity sprint for leaders in Q1 2020 — watch your email for the invite to join).
  • Grow “edupreneur” mastermind to 12 members and potentially launch a new cohort.

Thank you for being a Ruckus Maker and for your continued support. You are the reason I continue to “show up” and keep BLBS going. 

Our guiding “why” is quite simple: Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.

It excites me to see how you have grown in the past and dream about how you will grow in the future. Thank you for investing in yourself. The work you do is important and your community is counting on you. I look forward to supporting you in 2020.

Keep Making a Ruckus,

Daniel Bauer

Founder and Chief Ruckus Maker of Better Leaders Better Schools.