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« Black Hills: Adventure and Accomplishment | Main | BFTP: Lessons from the mouse »

BFTP: Quit Leading and Start Managing

Original post June 2, 2008. This also evolved into a column that can be found here. Reposted for Scott McLeod's Leadership Day #leadershipday11



Warning: I threw my back out yesterday and I hurt. What you will be reading may be written more by sore muscles than brain cells.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

You can't do the right things unless you know how to do things right. - the Blue Skunk 

I am getting a little tired of the emphasis on "leadership" in society and especially in education. For all the talk, all the theories, all the studies, all the exhortations, this push is getting us nowhere - and good management may be suffering as a result.

Here are some deadly warning signs I've noticed lately...

  • Has your local grad school replaced its "administration and management" classes with "leadership" classes?
  • Has your professional organization's standards become a "visionary" document instead a practical description of and guidelines for an effective program?
  • Has your last administrator been hired based on his philosophy and not his track record of running schools well?

I will state right up front that I am better manager than I am "leader." The workshops and articles of which I am most proud tend to be "management" rather than "leader" focused. Budgeting, tech planning, policy-making, skills integration, effective staff development and program evaluation are among my favorites. It's pretty easy to sneer at sharing "how-I-done-it-good" stories rather than research or high-blown commentary. But those looking down their noses probably aren't the folks trying to make actual changes in the classroom or library. 

Let's face it - anybody can create a "vision" and cry loudly about all the things that are wrong and paint a utopian view that sounds pretty good (and it seems like almost everyone does). But what is usually lacking is any practical means of moving from Point A to Point B - especially within the parameters of working with real people, real budgets and a real number of hours in a day. I would contend that true genius is in finding ways to make vision reality - working where the rubber hits the road.

I've been wondering a good deal about what seems to be a round of recent political, economic and educational disasters - the Iraq War, the handling of Hurricane Katrina, the housing bubble, NCLB - and questioning whether it was a lack of leadership or piss-poor management that created (or exacerbated) the mess. Lets see:

  • removing an evil dictator and establishing a democracy in the Middle East - good vision, poor execution
  • helping the victims of a natural disaster - good vision, poor execution
  • increasing the number of people who own their own homes - good vision, poor execution
  • assuring that all children have good reading and math skills - good vision, poor execution

Where did we go wrong? Might it have been putting people who couldn't manage a one-car parade in charge? Leaders, not managers? Hmmmmm.

Pat a good manager on the back today...

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Reader Comments (2)

@ Doug
An interesting post. I've been doing a good amount of thinking about this lately as I'll be teaching some graduate courses this year on you guessed it "educational leadership". Project management skills, communication skills, and thinking about all the steps to accomplish to complete a change within a school are essential for effective administrators. Unfortunately most of this craft knowledge seems to be missing from a good part of the curriculum of education leadership programs. As a fairly recent student through some of these classes I always found the actual examples and sharing of actual strategies to be extremely valuable when I became an administrator.

August 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Roy

Hi Charlie,

I've always viewed the "theorists" with great admiration and with great skepticism. Few theories are pure and most are more difficult to implement that one imagines. My real heroes are those who can turn a vision into reality - practitioners!

Good hearing from you,


August 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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