Interview with Mark Scharenbroich

The following is a Q & A exchange between Mark Scharenbroich and me.

Mark Scharenbroich

Mark Scharenbroich is a fabulous resource of ideas for educators, leaders, and anyone interested in personal growth. I first heard Mark speak when he was a keynote at the Oklahoma state student council convention hosted at Skiatook High School two years ago.

Then I met Mark again when he addressed the gathering of 2012 NASSP Assistant Principal of the Year award recipients in Washington D.C. last April. Last summer our superintendent, Rick Thomas, used Mark’s book, Nice Bike, as a source for leadership training.

My goal in posting interviews with successful leaders in education is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams. I must also give credit to John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire whose great podcast interview questions I have modified for the Q & A’s I have with my guests.

Mark’s Bio:
Having earned a degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, Mark Scharenbroich is an award winning author, keynote speaker and school climate expert. Having addressed more than 3,000 school districts, Mark is a sought-after motivational speaker for the education and corporate market. He is the author of award winning book, Nice Bike – Making Meaningful Connections on the Road of Life. His earlier career in acting earned an Emmy, Silver Screen award, and he has been inducted into the National Speaker’s Association Hall of Fame. You can learn more about him at

WDP: What is your favorite success quote?
Mark: Barbara Jordan–“It’s more important to be interested than interesting.”

WDP: How have you used the idea contained in your favorite quote to affect your school or organization’s leadership?
Mark: I have learned that to ‘Nice Bike’ people is to acknowledge them, honor them and connect with them. Discovering someone’s else’s story instead of always telling your own is a core value in the Nice Bike principle. You should ask because you want to know, and then listen because you want to grow.

WDP: Take us back to a failure or obstacle. How did you overcome it?
Mark: Like most people, I have learned from more from my failures than I have from my successes. Although painful, every failure in time had a great lesson in it. The obstacles have been many but the “Overcome Solution” has always been the same: Clearer vision, measurable benchmarks, greater determination and celebrate the success.

WDP: What is one example of something you have done that required risk but created great results?
Mark: In my speaking career, I spoke to the 21st Century Cardiac Surgical Society. 50 of the top cardiac surgeons across the country. They were absolutely brilliant physicians. Self doubt crept deeper and deeper as I sat through an all day session of their presentations before I spoke at their banquets. My inner voice said, “You are way over your head on this one!” The presentation worked, I connected and the lesson I came away with was – every now and then you need to throw yourself in over your head. You need to be scared every now and then to really stretch yourself. It has given me a great deal more confidence to approach other audiences and situations.

WDP: Can you give an example of an “aha!” moment where you realized a key truth that you turned into a success?
Mark: I stumbled upon the Harley Davidson 100 year anniversary in Milwaukee in 2003. I was on my way to Neenah, WI to speak at a school district to help them kick off their year. I pulled over to see some of the Harley event, and I kept seeing bikers walk up to other bikers, look their bikes over and simply say, “Nice bike.” I witnessed a connection. The next day I told my audience of teachers about the event and how on their first day of school when they know their students first name or something about them, they are “Nice Biking” their student – a connection is made. The observation turned into a story which turned into my premise. It has been a great “Aha.”

WDP: Have you had an “I’ve made it” moment?
Mark: Being inducted into the National Speaker’s Association Hall of Fame…backing up my Suburban to the back door of Bang Printing to pick up 10 cases of my just published book, Nice Bike…receiving my Emmy award…being inducted into my High School Hall of Fame…although the best was on a flight home from Washington DC. I flew my Dad out with me to a speech, in fact, I shared a stage with First Lady Nancy Reagan (she spoke the day before me, but it was the same stage…) Dad hadn’t heard me speak then many times, and midway through the flight he turned to me and said, “You did a really good job.” That was the “I’ve made it moment.”

WDP: What was holding you back from seeing the high levels of success you are seeing now?
Mark: I didn’t think I was good enough, smart enough or talented enough to pull it off. Self doubt held me back more than anything else.

WDP: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Mark: Choose your mentors carefully. Choose people of influence carefully. Learn from what they say, how they think and most of all how they act every day.

WDP: Do you have a resource that you just love that you would recommend to other leaders?
Mark: I have a DVD of my presentation to educators entitled, “Building Connections to Improve Academic Achievement.” I think it is a great program; however, it’s never found an audience. It’s my take on what it takes to build a stronger school climate where students feel connected.

WDP: If you could recommend a book for other school leaders, what would it be?
Mark: I don’t have one book – but after visiting more than 3,000 schools (both great ones and not so great) every ship needs a captain – every school needs a visible, vision driven, passionate leader. I have never met a bad staff or bad group of students, just bad school leaders. Great school leaders create amazing teaching staffs and a wonderful student bodies- every time. The best book I have ever read about true character is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

WDP: If you could speak to the 20 year-old version of yourself, what advice would you give him or her?
Mark: 1) Define yourself by your core values. What do you believe in and what guides you? Write down your 5-10 core values and if anyone asks you what they are – you should be able to state them and why they guide you. 2) Write a list of 50 things you want to do before you turn 50 (50 B/4 50) then look at the list each week. It is magical and powerful.

WDP: Final thoughts?
Mark: Great blog. Wonderful look and insights – I really admire your work. Plus, love the picture of your family at the end of your About Me, it’s a sweet touch. My only advice on those three adorable daughters…get thee to a nunnery.

WDP: A huge thanks to Mark for his insights! If you are interested in more of Mark Scharenbroich’s resources or availability for speaking to educators, visit his website.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker