Built to Last
Seemingly, there is a complete change in direction each time there is a new leader. In Michigan, as the year winds down, we are about to see a huge shift, with hundreds of administrative retirements. An extraordinary amount of schools and districts will begin next fall with new people in formal roles of leadership. While it is my belief that the evolution of an organization is healthy, I am often skeptical of complete changes in direction, especially when they are seemingly done for the sake of change. As someone who aspires to a new role, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to build systems that will be around for years to come, and not discarded immediately after someone is replaced. If schools develop a set of operating principles, empower their staff, then a principal is charged with continuing to build upon excellence, rather than starting over again. To me, that is the legacy to strive for as the leader of an organization.
Like many others, I am a fan of the book “Good to Great,” especially the monograph that is geared specifically to the social sector. I think the work Jim Collins has done has a lot of practical application, so it was easy to turn to his research based on what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. With this in mind, I spent last week reading “Built to Last.” In it, Collins and his partner Jerry Porras develop several thoughts that schools should put into practice, specifically:
– Be a clock builder, not a timekeeper. Leaders must focus on building a process or system that will allow an organization to develop multiple ideas at once. Rather than focusing on one situation, organizations must develop the capacity to evolve with time. As I read this, I thought a lot about the mechanism of classic clocks and watches. Leaders of organizations must put all of the right parts in place to keep the clock keeping good time. From time to time, clock makers must also change some parts or clean up some of the wear and tear. Their work is to keep the clock keeping accurate time, focusing on the process.
– Focus on AND, not OR. Great organizations seek to find short term success AND long term growth, not one or the other.
– Great leaders and organizations have a core ideology. With this in mind, I developed the following for myself:
My first commitment is to students who attend our school. Providing them a safe place where they can receive a well rounded, exemplary education is my first responsibility.
My second commitment is to our staff who work with me. That they come to a workplace that has autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
My third commitment is to our parents. Keeping them informed, mindful of customer service, and offering them resources is my responsibility.
My fourth commitment is to our community. Sharing our space, and making a contribution to the area around us and our district will allow me to impact those around our school.
My fifth commitment is to our government. Fulfilling mandates, achieving on tests and other assessments, and complying with the demands made by the Department of Education will allow us to keep our doors open and maintain my other commitments.
– Core ideology must work with an internal force that relentlessly pursues progress, improvement, and forward movement. Successful organizations set big goals for themselves that are not PR statements, but quick, meaningful words. They indoctrinate new employees into their culture, and never hesitate to experiment. They promote from within and develop their own leaders.
– Lastly, great organizations always look for measurable ways to be better tomorrow than they were today.
This book really pushed my thinking about how to build a system that will last long beyond a change in who the leader is. Developing a process and principles will lead to long term success for a school, regardless of who sits in the principal’s office.