Leadership Lessons from Dr. Fran Prolman - January 2021

Updated: Feb 5


I am excited to introduce the inaugural issue of the monthly TLC Leadership Lessons newsletter. The purpose is to provide insightful, thought-provoking and practical information to support you on your leadership journey.

Thank God it's 2021.

A little over a year ago, I optimistically thought that 2020 would be the year of “perfect vision”, of "clarity". I recall thinking, “Bring it on! Let’s see what 365 days of perfect vision and clarity will reveal”.

Not in my wildest dreams (nightmares) could I have envisioned a global pandemic that would turn the world upside down and bring devastation to so many … the antithesis of clarity.

Like many of you, I dug deeply into the experiences of grief, loss, anxiety, and trauma until I could find my sea legs again. Once that kicked in, I did what I always do: I researched the new topics we were forced to face (like working from home, isolation, how to use Zoom); I created study groups; I assembled workbooks with practical strategies to get a handle on the responses to the single most impactful adult trauma of our time.

10 Pandemic Lessons to Think About

It took a global pandemic for me to learn what I should have learned all along. Below is are 10 lessons I learned. What are yours? Feel free to email me your thoughts.


Many of us were forced to stop running, doing, creating, building, and inventing in 2020. We are often so busy that we forget to breathe or to notice how busy we are. The pandemic gave me a lot of time to sit and think about the past few years. I wrote a book or completed a research project every year while working in 17 countries (I had time to count), raising two great kids, cooking gourmet meals, entertaining friends and family and maintaining relationships. After this pandemic, I don’t think I can - or want to - do that again. I suggest each of you reflect on the past and your level of "busyness". Remember there's a difference between being busy (working harder) and being productive (working smarter).


There is something to be said for cleaning out a closet or basement or attic. Did you know that clutter can cause undue stress and anxiety? Do we really need so many of everything in every category? For me, the simplicity of minimalism and lightening my load has seized my attention. So has breathing, with an emphasis on the exhale. What about you?


Over the summer, our small cul-de-sac became the place for building and nurturing deep relationships, the kind that doesn't happen on a plane. It started with regular social distancing BYODs (bring your own dinners) and happy hours and eventually, as we got to know each other again, fire pit campfires with old fashioned storytelling and s’mores. Have you reconnected with your neighbors this past year?


I was sitting in my hydrangea-laden garden this past spring and summer listening to my pandemic-purchased sculpture trickle water for hours on end. For months, this small waterfall became one of my main sources of sanity. I'll never again underestimate the spirituality and rejuvenation found in the elegance of water. What about you? Any spontaneous pandemic purchases that brought you unexpected joy?


COVID-19 may be one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime. I've always believed that challenges can be reframed as opportunities as well as a guarantee for growth and an expanded inner-self. After 2020, I now realize I no longer need to be wary of the unknown, scary or daunting if I have myself as my wingman, not a passive observer. What a gift that has been. What about you? Did you use the pandemic as an opportunity to adjust your business, spend more time with your family, work on yourself?


Who knew? So many of us had to reinvent and recreate in the worst of times. That's no small task. But we're not alone in this complicated journey. For me, building a village of extremely talented and gifted people enriched my journey in 2020. Were you able to adapt to the changing times or are you struggling to stay afloat?


We all need to remind ourselves daily to make self-care a mandate. Self-care “oxygen” is no longer optional. I, personally, have ignored it for as long as I can remember, until now. Are you putting yourself first, at least occasionally?


We have to unplug from technology and re-plug in to the power of human connection. And we need to do this on a daily basis. It is the magic ingredient that we cannot live without. I am so blessed that “my people” showed me that they are always with me. Have you made the effort to unplug over the past year?


Aesthetics, surroundings, air, color, sound and sleep all matter and fuel our internal energy. Don't you agree?


Self-compassion is learnable, intentional and healing. Why give it to everyone else and simultaneously be stingy with ourselves? I vow to pour it on! What about you?

As Dorothy learned at the end of her yellow-brick road journey, the power to change lives inside each of us (albeit buried like an ancient Egyptian tomb). We just need to be still long enough to find, acknowledge and own this. Yes, it took a pandemic to do it and certainly yes, I will hug the stuffing out of the airport ticketing agent when I check in for a flight after more than a year of not flying. And at the same time, I must acknowledge as Dorothy did, “There is no place like home.”

5 of My Favorite Authors

Reading books and listening to the thinking of others are true passions of mine. There is a core group of authors whom I religiously follow for their thought leadership. Below is far from a conclusive list; just my top five for the moment!

Brené Brown

Few people had heard of Brené Brown, a researcher studying shame and vulnerability at the University of Texas in Austin, when she presented her first TED talk. It is one of the top five most watched TED talks with over 80 million views. Since that time, every book she has written has become a best seller. Her website leads you to tremendous resources and perspectives, and her newly launched podcast hosts luminaries such as President Obama. The tenth anniversary reprint of her book that started it all, "The Gifts of Imperfection" is now available. This book, like her others, gives us permission to be imperfect beings striving to learn and grow, allowed to treat ourselves with self-compassion and give ourselves a break.

Ibram X. Kendi

Dr. Kendi’s groundbreaking text "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" is extraordinary. His compelling and in-depth research offers the reader a heartbreaking and illuminating history. For readers who were raised in white privilege, you get to understand that there is not a minute of privilege experienced if you are a person of color. Rather, privileges are taken away. This is an eye-opening must read. His book "How to Be an Anti-Racist" is a good second read. We all need to be intentional about confronting, speaking to and addressing racism with consistent ally behavior, investigating the implicit we all have, and by embracing thoughtful, wholehearted conversation and dialogue.

Daniel Pink

Even though Daniel Pink has written many valuable books, "To Sell is Human" remains my all-time favorite and has had the largest impact on my work. I love how he reframes the stereotype of a salesman by studying the methods of the old “Fuller Brush” salesman. The salesman isn’t brash, in your face or presumptuous. He is understated, quiet, and patient, not taking any interaction personally and doing the least amount of talking. He practices “deep listening” with his clients to understand their concerns, needs and hopes for their future. By his restraint, his curiosity and listening skills, he has collected a wide array of data to work with as he crafts his “sales pitch”, linking the product to what is important to the client. It’s thoughtful, sincere and elegant.

Simon Sinek

Ten years ago, Simon Sinek, a noted leadership author presented a TED Talk entitled "Start with Why". His idea took off like wildfire, and within a short time it became one of the most watched TED talks garnering 33 million views. He then authored a three- book series, all of which became New York Times bestsellers. The books have definitely influenced my thinking and how I plan presentations, books, and speeches. What’s my WHY? I would recommend the entire trilogy beginning with "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action"; "Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t"; and "Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team".

Margaret Wheatley

Margaret Wheatly is a one-woman intellectual tour de force in the area of wholehearted leadership and systems-thinking. I found myself re-reading some of her books during the pandemic, and am always in awe of her prescient, prophetic thinking fifteen years before the biggest global crisis of our time. How did she think and capture the future in such a focused way? Consider these book titles: "Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World"; "Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future" or "Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time". It’s as if she crafted the thinking and possibilities to be ready for when the pandemic comes and our mental health gets assaulted.

For the past year, the answer to that question would be "virtually everywhere". Whether it was facilitating training in Paris at 3am ET, or presenting at the CEESA virtual conference in Croatia, the miracle of technology allows me to be anywhere in the world in a meaningful and engaging way in your time zone.

January is a big month for leadership training, raising consciousness on our implicit bias; designing a professional growth system with teachers and administrators, Transforming Schools: Leading and Learning in Complex Systems and strengthening women in their leadership roles.

January 11

Administrators: Leadership Training

BESD Schools, Arizona

January 12

Counselors Training: Trauma and Anxiety

BESD Schools, Arizona

January 13

Women in Leadership Institute

Indiana State Board of Ed

January 13

International School Teacher Leadership Training


January 15

PS Principals: Confronting Bias

Virginia Beach City

January 16-18

Transforming Schools

Khartoum American School

January 19

Trauma, Anxiety and Self-Compassion

CEESA Region

January 19

Facilitating Global Committee on Equity

Africa Region/ISK

January 20

Professional Growth System Committee

Istanbul Community School

January 21

PS Aspiring Principals Training

Newport News

January 24

Senior Leadership Team Training

UNIS Hanoi

January 28

Women in Leadership Part One


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