If you have not yet read Good to Great by Jim Collins, put it at the top of your list. It’s one of those books that had been on my radar for quite some time, but I didn’t read it up until recently. This bestseller, which is one of the defining management books of this century, explores the common characteristics of “elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years.” Although this is not technically an education book, as one of my colleagues Kyle Pearce (@MathletePearce) has said, “I always find huge connections from business to education. I read tons of business geared books and apply many of the strategies in my day-to-day.”
For Part 1 of this post, let’s take a look at five quotes from the first half of the book and examine how they can relate to education. For Part 2 we will do the same with five quotes from the second half of the book.
“We found no systematic pattern linking specific forms of executive compensation to the process of going from good to great. The idea that the structure of executive compensation is a key driver in corporate performance is simply not supported by the data.”
In Drive, Daniel Pink explains that the three elements of true motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He also dispels the myth that external motivators such as money can enhance productivity, especially when individuals are engaged in tasks that involve creativity and inquiry. In fact, Pink discusses research that concludes that these supposed motivators actually inhibit performance. Nonetheless, the current trend in education emphasizes accountability over empowerment, as a portion of teacher salary usually depends on student performance on a single test. Check out Daniel Pink’s TED Talk, The Puzzle of Motivation.
“The great irony is that the animus and personal ambition that often drive people to positions of power stand at odds with the humility required for Level 5 leadership [the top level].”
This is a quote to which I can relate. I have always admired Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents who are completely humble, and at the same time I have often wondered how they have gotten to where they are while acting like they do. Frequently, the workers who move up the ladder are the ones who promote themselves, talk about how great they are, and sometimes step on others to get what they want. So, do these humble Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents act one way and then change who they are once they obtain their goals, or do they stay humble from beginning to end with the idea that their hard work will speak for itself?
“In determining ‘the right people,’ the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”
Over the past few years I have participated on interview teams for countless teacher candidates. During these times I have found it be fascinating that we have sometimes held on a pedestal the candidates’ knowledge of certain facts (e.g., components of balanced literacy, features of an effective lesson plan, classroom management procedures, etc.). In my opinion, what we look for in these aspiring teachers should be the same exact characteristics that should be promoted in our students on a daily basis (e.g., problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, adaptability, growth mindset, etc.). After all, any interviewee (or student) can memorize a few facts and then regurgitate them when the time is right.
“The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led –yes. But not tightly managed.”
In Learning by Doing, Richard Dufour, Rebecca Dufour, Robert Eaker, and Thomas Many discuss the concept of defined autonomy in creating a school culture that is “simultaneously loose and tight” (p. 61). For example, certain issues and tasks might have to be addressed as part of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process, but “At the same time, however, individuals and teams can benefit from considerable autonomy and freedom in terms of how to get things done on a day-to-day basis” (p. 62). Pink, Collins, and the Dufours all emphasize the importance of autonomy as a motivational factor. A district or school should have a distinct direction, but administrators and teachers need to be able to exercise this autonomy within the confines of this direction. That being said, please don’t micromanage your employees.
“Indeed, one of the crucial elements in taking a company from good to great is somewhat paradoxical. You need executives, on the one hand, who argue and debate – sometimes violently – in pursuit of the best answers, yet, on the other hand, who unify fully behind a decision, regardless of parochial interests.”
There is no doubt that innovative companies (and school districts) welcome respectful argument and debate while behind closed doors. This is a concept to which some “leaders” might be blind because (1) they are more concerned with railroading their own ideas than allowing true collaboration to take place, and/or (2) it’s “their way or the highway” because they’re the highest up on the food chain. In the highly recommended Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull (President of Pixar) details the ways in which Pixar’s Braintrust freely shares ideas, opinions, and criticisms as part of their movie making process. It’s not about ego or taking things personally, but rather about engaging in a rigorous process to produce the best results possible. It would be fascinating to see how school districts could integrate into their routines these very same ideas and methodologies.
How can you connect any of these quotes to education? How have you been inspired by a specific business book?
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