Enough time has passed that I can muster the emotional courage to write about the 2013 KC Chiefs season. In hindsight, it has been a great run under General Manager John Dorsey and Head Coach Andy Reid. With only one major player change, the Chiefs went from 2-14 to 11-5 in one year. How did they do it!? Observation and experience tell us that leadership matters in professional sports.
School districts can experience similar transformations. MCREL’s research on building and district leadership tells us that building principals and district leadership team’s can make a significant difference in student achievement. In the words of former Kansas Coach of the Year Doug Moeckel, the superintendent is the head coach and the principals are the coordinators. That makes the board the owner and GM. All of these people have to be working in synch for a school system to work with maximum efficacy.
Sports fans can cite many examples of when this hasn’t worked well, but to me the best example is the recent history of the Chiefs. Head Coach Haley and GM Pioli created a culture of paranoia and misplaced focus that was so bad it led to the team being the laughing stock of the NFL. There was no trust and no clear understanding on the part of coaches or management about the vision and direction of the team. In this case it was a breakdown between coach and GM. Other examples such as Washington and Dallas show a clear breakdown between ownership and coaches.
What lessons can schools learn from these examples?
1. It’s the Leadership TEAM that makes the difference. No team can win without great assistant coaches. No school district can win without great principals. Head Coaches and GM’s include their assistants in helping craft vision and direction. Boards and superintendents listen to their principals as they develop vision and direction for their students.
2. There is no I in Team. A platitude, but true. In Dallas it has become all about Jerry Jones. When is the last time Dallas won a championship? In Washington, it became all about the Quarterback. Their season was lost. It cannot be all about the board, the superintendent, or the principals. It is about the leadership team.
3. In the words of Dr. Heim the Greater (Max) “When the elephants fight, the grass loses.” Organizations, like people, have a finite amount of energy. In school districts, if that energy is spent in conflict at the leadership level the students lose. Egos, hidden agendas, and opaqueness lead to a lost vision.
4. Leadership matters! When the Chiefs went 2-14, there was no movement to cut assistant coaches to spend more money on “the players.” In the NFL, the effects of leadership on performance are well accepted. Since 2002 in Kansas we have 24 fewer superintendents and 77 fewer principals. We have 212 fewer administrative support positions. At the same time we have 12,520 more students and nearly 4,000 more teaching and instructional support positions. In many of our districts, when the principal and superintendent talk, a mirror is the other party. We have to help our public see that leadership matters!
From the KASB perspective, we know that being a board member is a thankless job. We see that being a superintendent is the most important job. We need to acknowledge that being a principal is the most difficult job. We have to recognize that all of these leadership positions, working together, will make the best team for Kansas students.