Avoiding Pitfalls: 3 Leadership Tips From Good to Great

The other day I was going through my books when I came across a copy of Jim Collins Good To Great.
It had been a couple of years since I had read it, but as I flipped the pages, I was reminded of the numerous companies he researched to see what common traits existed among the most high performing.

If you haven’t read it, it is worth picking up. Here are just three lessons from his research that are worth applying to schools too:

1. Leaders of great organizations understand their passion and mission, which in turn drives their primary service goals.

According to Collin’s research of the top companies in America, when the focus of an organization is narrowed to one or two main areas, performance inevitably increases.

As I think about my own school this year, we are focusing on two main areas:
• Maintaining rigor and high expectations so students learn and perform well.
• Providing feedback and services to struggling students so that they can show improvement.

How are you keeping the main thing the main thing with your school team this year?

2. Great organizations possess leaders who are focused on building an environment the creates results rather than obsessing about their own personal image.

Collins actually admits surprise when he discovers that the most effective leaders are humble, teachable, and tenaciously focused on fulfilling the main purpose of their company’s existence.

He points out the fallacy of believing that “dazzling” celebrity-like leaders produce lasting change.

The opposite is actually true. As he puts it, the most effective leaders are “plow horses, not show horses.”

So often we make the mistake of choosing image over substance in the officials we elect and the people we appoint to roles of leadership.

Collins describes the most effective leaders as “Level 5” leaders: people who are quietly and consistently committed to making the right choices again and again over a long period of time.

Level 5 leaders also invest in developing new leaders among their team who can eventually take their place.

3. Leaders of great organizations build long-term momentum through consistent growth and progress rather than through constant change.

Momentum is a powerful force, and when organizations consistently push toward common results, they begin to see their strengths grow exponentially.

In other words, once long-term, consistent growth begins, it is hard to stop or slow it down.

On the other hand, Collins warns against the Doom Loop–a pattern of constantly introducing new “radical” changes which have the opposite effect on productivity as well as halt momentum.

Sadly, we’ve seen a lot of examples of the Doom Loop in my own state of Oklahoma as our state government has introduced, changed, repealed, and implemented various standards, assessments, standards, and reports.

Sometimes we have to lead in spite of state oversight rather than because of its support.

Application Questions
Keep these questions in mind as you lead your school or team:

1. What is the main purpose of your school and what are the main results you want to reach each year?

2. How can you contribute to the consistent, hard work necessary to reach main goals without concern for personal credit?

3. How can you encourage building momentum and protect your school community during the “doom loops” of unnecessary changes?

Strong leadership happens when you understand your purpose, do the hard work, lead selflessly, and build momentum through consistency.

If you’re like me, that seems like a tall order.

But be encouraged. None of us leads perfectly. Studying good models, however, can help us avoid many of the pitfalls of distraction, self-promotion, and unnecessary changes.

Practicing these three tips may even help move our schools from good ones to great ones.

Now It’s Your Turn
What are some lessons you are learning as you lead your school or team toward reaching common goals?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker
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