Leadership … management … caretaker?

by Steve Wyckoff on March 25, 2010

The whole question of leadership versus management has been on my mind for some time. Years is in fact. I’ve watched as we were told that principals and superintendents needed to be leaders not managers. And magically, even though they were doing exactly the same things on their job, they became leaders rather than managers.

Like I said, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought for a long time and I decided that we need a third category to describe the behavior of individuals in leadership positions. It occurred to me recently when I was listening to the book The Knack by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham.

In their book they talked about how valuable managers are, but only when they are monitoring the most important data to make sure that things are being done right. But they also eluded to leaders as being the people who make sure the right things are being done. So if you’re not managing well, figuring out what’s most important in collecting data and analyzing it to determine how you’re going, and are not leading, making sure you’re doing the right things, then there must be a third category.

I’ve begun calling that third category of individuals caretakers. They monitor  what’s going on in the organization but they never really analyze how to measure the most important functions of the organization. They typically make sure that what’s been done in the past keeps occurring in the future.

In education it was so pervasive that we started talking about data-driven decision-making. Principles simply had never looked at data, they simply did what was done when they were teachers or even students, and kept doing it. I still don’t think we do a good job of data-driven decision-making because in my opinion we usually look at irrelevant data, namely test scores. But that’s another rant.

Leaders on the other hand are making sure that the right things are being done within the organization, not that the things that are being done are simply being done correctly. When I think of leaders in education the individual who always comes to mind is Mike Carson. Mike retired last year as superintendent of the Erie public schools, but not before he had led the complete transformation of Erie high school to project-based learning. Now that’s leadership!

Mike looked at the organization and asked, “What is it that we should be doing to make sure that our kids are prepared to be productive members of the 21st century society?” Based on that discussion Mike “lead” his school district in making dramatic changes.

We need more Mikes in our world. –  Steve Wyckoff

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