Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Roy Baker School of Leadership Lessons

Wednesday morning I have a wonderful opportunity. I get the chance to kick off a day of interviewing as one of three final superintendent candidates for Norris. I have no idea whether I’ll emerge from the battle as the candidate of choice, but I know that I am excited beyond belief and I am proud to be the internal candidate who represents the legacy and tradition of Norris leadership. It may sound audacious, but I believe I’ve been reared by the best.

I say that because I worked just down the hall from our retiring superintendent Roy Baker for four years as the high school principal and for the last year and half+ now, I have had the chance to work right next door to him as an assistant superintendent. Heck, by process of osmosis alone I have learned quite a bit about leadership. Some of my learning has been just through that exposure to the Sup day in and day out, as things come up. And some of that learning has been very intentional – wherein Roy has deliberately conveyed an important lesson or understanding to me.

So, I have learned a great deal from Roy Baker in the six years I’ve been working for him. I thought I’d put some of these things down in writing because the moment seemed right for it. In this calmer moment of reflection before the stress and excitement of an interview day, I offer educators some fundamentals I’ve acquired from a darned smart mentor:

1. There can be only one quarterback. [Translation: a leader knows the buck stops here. When the situation calls for it, no one should wonder who’s calling the shots. Whatever your position, you are probably the quarterback of something or some domain in your life…A true leader does not disavow or shirk, but accepts and in fact welcomes personal responsibility.]
2. Four words I hate most: “That’s not my job.” [Translation: it’s related to lesson #1. Marginal people look for ways to avoid doing things. Peak performers are always finding new ways to get involved and apply their talents. If something needs doing, see that it gets done.]
3. Sub-optimization will sink you. [Translation: sometimes schools have a tendency to get wild about programs and initiatives. While everyone going off in their own direction with their own pet program or instructional approach may sound creative, it’s just a recipe for chaos.]
4. In the absence of information, all people have is speculation. [Translation: don’t sit on valuable information. Communicate what is known in a timely and thorough manner to everyone.]
5. A school budget is just instructional priorities expressed in dollars. [When crunching the numbers, never forget that students and student learning is what we’re all about.]
6. Trust. It’s our most valuable commodity. [This one needs no translation; if it does, God help you and your district!]
7. Good is the enemy of great. [This one is lifted from the Collins Good To Great classic. Roy has repeatedly pointed out that it’s an important reminder for systems like Norris, where we can sometimes get very comfortable just being good – when we should be striving for greatness in everything.]
8. Spirited disagreement is a key characteristic of great teams. [It may seem counter-intuitive, but really tight teams have a high enough level of trust that they are able to challenge one another’s viewpoints and offer different perspectives – with the outcome ultimately being a stronger, unified decision.]
9. Wishing and hoping and TGI (‘the gut instinct’) is not the same as seeing the evidence. [Translation: everything should be linked to data. There need to be identifiable, measurable outcomes in place to evaluate individual, program, and district performance.]
10. Job-embedded learning is essential. [Translation: regardless of how great we think Teachers College prep programs are or how gifted someone is to begin with, we all need to be lifelong learners who evolve in our understanding of best practice.]

That’s certainly not all there is to it. One thing about life, you keep learning new lessons and sometimes learning more about the ones you thought you’d mastered. But, those noted above are 10 of what I believe to be the most important leadership and life lessons Roy has taught me. They’ve already served me well – and will continue to do so regardless of my job title. Hope you can get something from them, too.