Effective School Leaders Understand That Everyone’s Input Has Value

Schools are a lot like companies, in the sense that innovation and creativity are vitally important. However, some principals believe that they know it all, and refuse to listen to others, even in dark times, which stifles the creativity of their staff. A great idea is a great idea, and the principals that embrace this logic are often the most successful.

Maybe some administrators believe that if they take advice from their subordinates, it will make them seem weak or unintelligent. Take it from me, the most intelligent people that I know ask a ton of questions. If they don’t understand something, they ask questions and add this new knowledge to their existing database. If you do the same, you will see your life and career flourish.

To illustrate my point, let’s look a scenario where a know it all principal finally admits that he needs help, and it changes his principalship for the better. Afterward, reflect and use your thoughts to inform your practice.

Scenario: Grover Cleveland Elementary was going through a difficult time. Its finances were in dire shape, and it seemed rudderless. The principal, Joe Alheusen, knew that it was up to him to get the school back on course, but he was having a hard time creating the required environment. Certain teachers came to his office from time to time with unconventional ideas that he would have to veto, but in the back of his mind he knew that he shouldn’t be stifling their creative thinking.

One of the parents at Grover Cleveland, Oren Milner, was a wealthy financier and advisor for tech start-ups. One Friday evening, at a social get-together, Alheusen told Milner that he envied the freedom and energy of the start-up companies he dealt with, and said he wished he could bring those qualities to his school. Milner asked him a few questions and realized that the school situation really wasn’t that different from a company: creative employees had ideas that needed to be heard, it required sound leadership, and the finances had to be managed effectively. He suggested that he meet with a few of the school leaders.

After a month of Wednesday-afternoon meetings, Milner made three suggestions. He offered Alheusen the services of his accountant for a few weeks, to look at areas where the budget could be trimmed. He recommended implementing a new structure for staff meetings, in which all ideas would be heard, no matter how crazy. The ideas would be discussed on their merits and vetoed or promoted by the staff as a whole. And he advocated building stronger relationships between the “customers” – the parents – and the staff, to listen to complaints and receive ideas.

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