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To Deliver Sustainable Results, Leadership Today Must Continue to Change

Today, public leaders are “expected” to have the answers, play political games, and mandate change.

It’s time to give those expectations the boot*. It’s time to be curious, listen, learn, and courageously translate new knowledge into collective action.

* Today’s blog has been inspired, in part, by a blog by Tim Kuppler of  Portions of Tim’s post are adapted here and included with permission.

The “shadow of a leader” is powerful.

Will your leadership shadow reflect past attempts, partially successful, and re-applied today?

Or will your leadership shadow represent new solutions that build upon past foundations and upon both past and present learning?

Like it or not, our lives keep changing as a function of our continuously broadening and deepening understandings — collectively as humanity — of ourselves and the world around us.

Collectively, we must each hang onto treasures from our individual and collective pasts while embracing the realities of our emerging personal and collective understandings.  This is required in order to integrate our treasured values within a world that seems to be continuously transforming around us.


Present-day leadership, likewise, continues to evolve. While we can readily see in the media many forms of autocratic and oligarchical attempts to control others with varying degrees of costs and success, business industry analysts, in contrast, are asserting that business leaders today who are able to address today’s challenges in the most agile and sustainable manner are evolving into and demonstrating various forms of “servant leadership.”

In fact, leaders today model the way with “leading-edge” approaches that turn out to also be historically-grounded approaches demonstrated to effectively engage and manage meaningful mission-focused improvements.

Effective leaders have done this, past and present, through personal consistency in their personal declarations of desirable behavior and results, and then by modeling those desired behaviors, with both consistent assertiveness and appropriate humility at the same time, to achieve those results despite inevitable challenges along the way.

Remember “servant leadership.”

Culture and leadership, you may know, are keys to optimizing effectiveness in any organization. This is especially the case when resources are tight.

Our civic and private industry leaders are prudent to personally engage in meaningful organizational change. This is required to take action effectively today in collaboration with others to deliver results.

As One Example, This Also Includes Our Public School Leaders

I suspect you and I might agree that meaningful school system culture invigoration must include school principals and their district leaders.

Most school leaders know their school’s culture must continue to change or evolve.

However, principals and their superintendents must not only possess a sense of urgency, but also an incredible tenacity to overcome common public school bureaucratic challenges.

They must overcome the headwinds of a deeply entrenched public school culture with distinct sub-cultures, each evolving at variable rates due to many reasons that apply to nearly all public schools.

Some leaders actually do want to learn how to engage their team in new ways to drive effectiveness.

Unfortunately, most leaders either don’t have the knowledge necessary to overcome the deeply entrenched culture, remain unnecessarily reticent to initiate change, or they remain unwilling to take the first transparent and inclusive steps.

Few understand how their own behavior might be negatively reinforcing the current educational culture.

Let’s Be Frank: The word “culture” has been so over-used recently that it has nearly lost its practical meaning.

Leaders may launch “culture change” efforts proactively and with great intent, but they can be chewed up by the current culture.

While defining a common language is critical, it’s also critically important to become clear and specific about which norms and behaviors must change and how to support those changes.

It’s possible to measure some aspects of the underlying culture, but very few schools or school systems have taken the step to adequately measure specific cultural norms of key relevance.

These deeply entrenched expectations or “unwritten rules” drive the vast majority of behavior in organizations.

The core of meaningful culture work always includes involving groups in tackling significant organization priorities in culturally intelligent ways necessary to overcome major challenges.

Individuals are engaged in the journey, learn together what works, and naturally apply it to other priorities and plans.

In doing so, it’s critical to move beyond the behavior we see in the climate and understand the underlying culture.

Leaders need to precisely understand how both the climate and culture are impacting their work on top mission or performance priorities.

The “key learnings” that leaders gain from these understanding are tailored to their settings and, in practical terms, invaluable.

Silo behaviors continue to abound.

Silo behavior is encouraged by the structures of our public schools. Some school leaders focus on protecting resources and priorities managed within their work team instead of collaborating with others on important cross-functional improvements.

Cultural headwinds are enormous, so it’s easier to focus on changes a department or team can control, rather than to raise the bar and go after major cross-school or cross-departmental change efforts.

Today, many organizations are replacing traditional department structures with cross-functional structures or at least matrix structures that support collaboration.

How do new cultural attributes form?

They do not take hold from mandates and top-down jolts to the entire organization.

The goal must be change that is collective and constructive, and focused on the mission priorities of the school, finding common ground, and improving results with school priority goals.


  • improving student services

  • enhancing student performance

  • creating safe environments

  • eliminating waste

  • stretching school dollars, precisely where you see fit

  • decreasing stress

  • increasing satisfaction

  • and so forth.

Focusing the work on a top mission or performance priority with a targeted culture shift in mind will increase the likelihood of delivering meaningful results.

Behaviors that lead to positive results will spread.

Edgar Schein reminds us that these desirable behaviors do not spread because employees are “told to” be that way, but because “they work.”

In a world of rapid change, we need to empower our participants to participate with agility, purpose, and relevance to our goals and objectives.

What role are you interested, willing, and able to play?

You are encouraged to sign up for our “Principals and Their Supporters eLetter for occasional but timely updates on this topic.  You can unsubscribe, of course, at any time.  If you sign up for our eLetter, we will email you our “Public Schools Culture-Change White Paper” completed in collaboration with Tim Kuppler.

You are also encouraged to contact us for a no-risk, no-obligation micro-consult. You remain in control as you invest in your own peak performance with peace of mind. You will obtain curious, confidential, and experienced listening & inquiry, by telephone or in person, to do with what you choose.

Explore your options. We welcome your sharing with us what you’re up to.

Our best,


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