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BFTP: Quit leading, start managing

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post June 2, 2008. Been tough finding time to write this week since I've been at both ISTE in San Antonio and am now at ALA in Chicago. I am pretty much conferenced out. I am looking forward to meeting one of my heroes, Jonathan Kozol today. 


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)

Maybe we need a new term, new education, and new responsibilities for...

Leadaments or Manaders

July 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

With all due respect, I can't keep up with all the new terms in education now!


July 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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