Extraordinary Bosses

Not sure that I always believe in all of the “10 things you must do …” lists, but this piece from Jeff Hayden in Inc. makes a lot of great points and aligns perfectly with what Daniel Pink says in his book Drive. http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/10-things-extraordinary-bosses-do-for-their-employees.html?cid=sf01002&goback=%2Enpv_36042294

It was shared by Jaronica Howard, a professional with whom I had the privilege of working,

Brand building and transparency

If Seth Godin is right and the success of a brand is proportional to the smoothness of the access, then some school districts will be very popular while others…not so much. Access for millennials in particular and even digital immigrants to some extent means a quick and easy way to e-mail. Many districts conceal this information from the public. With few exceptions (Houston, San Francisco, Portland, Montgomery County MD and Baltimore County MD), it seems the larger the district, the more sophisticated the e-mail cloaking. This is similar to having an unlisted phone number, and complaining that nobody calls!

The internet has changed the way the public expects to contact you. It has also shortened the appropriate response time. If you haven’t already and the volume of your e-mails is extensive, re-organize your staff for timely response to the constant flow of external and internal e-mails. (And, by the way, the robo-reply that says “I see all of my e-mails, but I get so many that I may not respond to yours”, is not sufficient either.) Designate someone on your staff that is trustworthy and authentic to handle your digital correspondence. Delegate that responsibility in whatever manner you choose from complete authority, to trust but verify, to full review prior to release. But above all, don’t hide.

If your contact information (digital and voice) is not readily accessible to the public, you will be criticized for a lack of transparency and your “brand” will suffer as a result. If superintendents as busy as Terry Grier in Houston and Dallas Dance in Baltimore County can respond promptly to all of their e-mails, clearly you can as well.

Pause… and think long-term

Within educational organizations this is the final countdown until the start of school. Everyone is leaning in. The adrenaline is high. But remember your career is a marathon, not a sprint to the middle of next year. Take a few minutes to think long-term about your career and what you are building.

In his recent HBR blog Nathaniel Koloc shared some great advice: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/08/build_a_career_worth_having.html

“1 Your career is a set of stepping stones, not a linear trajectory.

2 Seek legacy, mastery and freedom – in that order.

3 Treat your career like a grand experiment…

So if you’re one of the many who find themselves on the path to meaningful work — remember to enjoy the journey, don’t give up, and don’t settle.”

I hope everyone has a great year!

Creating value or reducing costs?

In a recent article in the Business Insider, Editor Henry Blodget says that business obsession with short-term profits has led to the view that employees are costs, rather than value creators. http://www.businessinsider.com/business-and-the-economy-2013-7 Many of us who have participated in the annual school district budget reduction discussions are surely guilty of the same sin. Aren’t the short-term profits in education the annual test results? Don’t we at least consider applying more of our resources to those “costs” that provide higher short-term profits (better results) in lieu of those that might provide better long-term value (student success)?

If your district vision and mission statements call for long-term success for your students (career and college readiness), shouldn’t your resources be applied to value creation and not short-term profits? How are you measuring long-term student success?

Connect, then Lead

In a recent Harvard Business Review article Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger explain warmth and strength in leadership. A good read as we look ahead to beginning another school year – a fresh new year with no mistakes in it!


The take-away for me out of this is without authenticity you can’t be an effective leader. Being trustworthy puts the power in powerful. Ever work with someone whose smile fades just a little too quickly or whose handshake is not quite genuine? Just keep it real.

Cultural Change and the Brain

In a recent article in Talent Management magazine concerning changing company culture, Reut Schwartz-Hebron suggests that using what we know about how the brain learns will be a way to deliberately develop more positive outcomes as part of organizational change.


Cultural change is not easy. Using the latest findings in brain science about how the brain unlearns and that it does not see everything as experience will help change managers to design a program that anticipates these issues and will be more successful as a result.

Culture and Loss

In his recent guest post on Clarity, Jamie Notter talks about a company’s culture and his belief that it is the organizational culture that drives success. http://blog.clarity.fm/culture-that-drives-success/

“People leave the culture, not the company.” is one of the culture clichés he uses. It is clear that without effective cultural change why many districts are unable to address their consistently high turnover. One large district told me that one-third of their instructional workforce will leave within five years. I understand from superintendents all over the country that those statistics are not unusual. Could it be time to focus on cultural change within educational organizations? After all, it is one aspect of the education business that will be cost-effective. Every time an employee leaves, it costs the district roughly 20% of that employee’s salary to hire a replacement.

I know some of you have begun change management, but once the rest of you get Common Core and PowerSchool up and running, it is time to for us to talk about real cultural change. Measure your annual losses and calculate the cost.

Are quick answers better?

In a recent conversation with a candidate searching for a position, he lamented his inability to perform an on-the-spot analysis when asked to do so in an interview. Are we so enamored with the quick answer that we dismiss the one that may be a little slower, but more thoughtful? Yes, there is something very seductive about those interviewees that can answer almost any query quickly. Surely they are the best and brightest. When boards of education interview potential superintendents, shouldn’t they penalize those candidates who are slower to respond? But how valuable is that skill? Should we really select someone on that basis? (See my page on Picking Good Leaders.)

So now let’s think about the implications for students…If the school calendar is 180 days and a student needs 190 days to master the material, is that student really “sub-standard”?


Periodically in your career as superintendent you get THE QUESTION.

“So how long do you plan to stay with our district?”

Why is this so difficult to answer with authenticity? Well, because that question comes with a lot of baggage. The previous superintendent may have stayed a long time and many in the community did not want to see him leave. Or she may have stayed a short time and many in the community felt betrayed. In any case, this is a new opportunity or a new position for you and you would like to think that you will hold it for an extended period of time. You don’t want to act like an idiot by admitting you don’t know how long you will stay. But let’s face it, the averages are against you! For every superintendent that retires with decades of service to one district, there are multiple colleagues that either move on to a better position or are asked to leave either before or after their contract term is up.

For a more realistic answer try a variation of this. After a thoughtful pause…”I believe that stable and long-serving leadership is best for this district, but clearly it is not entirely my decision. The board and the community must be pleased with the work that the staff and I have done in order for me to continue as superintendent.  Although I know there will be some decisions that may be unpopular, I hope that the staff and I will continue to have the support of the board and the community for a long time.”

Good Hiring Advice

Educational organizations are in the middle of the hiring season. Anthony Tjan offers some good advice about what to look for in a candidate. Not your typical HR questions, but you may not be looking for the typical HR results!