In education, the public often sees numbers while educators are more prone to see faces. For years now, leaders have stumbled to improve results so that their public report card could display the type numbers that the public could take pride in. However, as I began my leadership career I luckily got introduced to a new way, a new focus, a model of leadership which influenced the organization from the inside out. In reference to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, The Social Sector (2005), this mentor leader concentrated on the First Who principle to strengthen and build a successful organization.
In my first year as an administrator, I was placed in charge of curriculum, data, and improving instruction. I spent countless hours developing forms, organizing teacher schedules for common planning, and creating massive data walls to display our school results. I created a system of rewards to motivate the teachers to work harder than ever, and I was convinced I was about to flip my school’s data and be their savior, which of course is a terrible example of Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (2005). After about nine weeks, it hit me like a ton of bricks, our teachers were doing no more than they ever did before. They were no more motivated to improve their classroom instruction, use data, or improve the hard to reach students than ever before.
Fast forward to this past year, my second year, but my first year in a new district with a new proven principal. This principal had previously won national middle school and high school principal of the year for SREB (Southeast Regional Educational Board). I could not wait to see what he did differently.
Immediately he began “getting the right people on his bus” (Collins, 2005). First, he filled the thirteen vacancies within two weeks. Of the thirteen, six of them were specifically recruited and chose to come. And in one case, the newly hired teacher left a higher paying job to come work for our award winning principal, I could not believe it. Meanwhile, he met with his leadership team every day. As the leadership team, it became apparent right away that we were his focus, we were the right people, and soon we all spoke the same voice. Next, he began his implementation process for SREB instruction into the classrooms, and it is only mid-June. To do so, he met with all the department chairs and selected list of influential teachers. In these meetings, he set the foundation and groundworks, then expressed his vision for how instruction and delivery should look on our campus. And, to top this off, he charged each one of these teachers as the instructional leaders on our campus.
In using the First Who principle by Collins (2005), our school's culture was flipped before the remaining teachers ever stepped foot on campus. And, in alignment with the First Who principle, our principal understood some very key elements of a successful organization.
First, in alignment with his core values and vision, he understood who the right people are. The right people in our organization are not motivated by incentives or rewards but rather the mission. Even in one case mentioned above, one of our right people gave up money to come work for an organization that had effective leadership and a mission worth dedicating themselves. Further, the principal would often tell us, the leadership team, that the people he wanted are motivated, determined, disciplined, and persistent. And, if that meant using less talented people, then he would.
Second, he knew that when the right people begin to get on the bus, the wrong people would either conform or get off. We often discussed that if eight out of ten are on the bus, then the bad apples will eventually make a choice. If they decide to leave, then we would begin building our organization like Roger Briggs, the suburban physics teacher from Collins’ book. We would simply hire better (2005). Otherwise, if eight out of ten were on board and one of the two of ten was still on the fence, then they would eventually decide to join forces.
Now seeing the First Who principle for myself, I can see how it is done; however, it seems daunting since I am yet to be the top leader of an organization. Moving forward I plan to use this principle to build shared leadership, ownership, and commitment with my future staff members. Not only do I see this as one of the greatest challenges for social sector leaders, but maybe the most important challenge, specifically in school-based leadership.
And remember, in order to improve the organization, you must think higher, see broader, and care deeper...
Collins, J. (2005). Good to great: The social sector. Boulder, CO: HarperCollins Publishing.