Byron's Babbles

Effective Leadership: The Alternative to Tyranny

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 18, 2015

It is hard to believe we are already beginning week three of the new year. It seems like just yesterday we were toasting in the new year. As I was reading lesson three of my 52 lessons on Peter Drucker this morning I first thought it was going to be a pretty quick read and a quick reflection. Boy, was I wrong. I ended up reflecting through my educator lens and found myself reflecting deeply about what we need to do to truly accomplish my vision of providing a quality education for every student. As a believer that every child can learn, this is a very important mission to me.

This week’s lesson in Joseph A. Maciariello’s book, A Year with Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness, dealt with the three fundamental questions from a functioning society of organizations. I must remind you of Drucker’s belief that “management is a human activity (Maciariello, 2014).” Drucker’s three fundamental questions revolve around satisfying needs of human beings. It should also be noted that Drucker also recognized that we now need an enormous number of managers and leaders so we have to organize their development. “Effective leadership and management of society’s organizations is therefore the alternative to tyranny and the remedy for preserving responsible freedom and equality of opportunity (Maciariello, 2014, p. 20). Therefore we must lead responsible autonomy of our organizations so our team members are able to fulfill themselves.

Drucker’s First Question

“What is our business?” In other words, what are we trying to accomplish? What makes us distinct? When thinking about these questions I began to think about how our customers in education to answer these questions. We know that our customers (students) want to be college and career ready and we know that society wants them to be responsible citizens. But more importantly we need to look more closely at what makes our individual schools we lead distinct.

Our Indiana state constitution also recognizes the importance of this distinctness. In our most recent Education Kitchen Cabinet meeting, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma reminded us of the language referring to education. It is important to pay particular attention to the statement, “by all suitable means.” We have a constitutional obligation to make our delivery of knowledge and learning to our students distinct and effective. Here is a copy of what the state constitution says:

Indiana Constitution – Section 8 – Education
Section 1. Knowledge and learning, general diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.

I know in my case what makes the school I lead distinct is the fact that I lead a school system where students are able to be fully online or have the option to go to our hybrid schools (face to face two days a week and online the other three). What also makes us distinct is that we have a 67% mobility rate. We have to embrace the fact that in many cases we are a short term solution to many of our students. This mobility may be because of health issues, bullying, learning needs, or students who have special circumstances such as being an Olympic gymnast. For many students we are the only available choice in a state that embraces school choice. I believe we are beginning to make progress because we have begun to answer the question of what our business is and what makes us distinct. This realization has only come about because of really asking and listening to our customers (students) about what they believe we should be trying to accomplish for them. We have a long way to go, but are making progress.

It should also be noted that when I was a principal of an urban state takeover/turnaround school that I had to realize that what we were trying to accomplish was to turn around a culture and facilitate the learning of our students to provide credit recovery and catchup academic growth (only 19% of our students were on grade level when taking over). I believe we were able to successfully take the school off the “F” list because we accepted that the students we served made us distinct and we embraced it. To be successful we must accept and embrace the population we serve.

Second Drucker Question
“What are results?” This is a much easier question for a business that sells a product. It is a much tougher, some would say impossible, question to answer in education. While I believe in accountability, I believe this accountability needs to look different based on the distinctness of the organization discussed earlier around the first Drucker question. Recently I have been reviewing Indiana House Bill 1009. This bill has been dubbed the Freedom to Teach Act. It allows a school entity to establish freedom to teach zones, schools, or districts. I am a believer and supporter of this bill, but I also wonder if we should not take one more step and deregulate the accountability (results) piece. Since the plan has to be approved, why not have the school develop, as a part of the plan, an accountability plan. This accountability plan could then be developed based on the distinct characteristics of the school. I must repeat what I said earlier. Every school has distinct populations of students they serve as well as distinct ways of serving their students.

Make no mistake, I believe there will need to be consistent pieces to accountability, but the percentage weightings may be different. Also, there would be different metrics that might be necessary to measure based on the distinct differences of the schools. I am not proposing a specific plan or answer in this post, just proposing that we need to think about this.

Third Question of Core Competencies

“What are your core competencies?” or “What do you have to do with excellence?” To me core competencies are the foundational skills, behaviors, knowledge, and expertise required to be an effective leader in the industry. These competencies assist in providing a common understanding of your organization’s leadership and team member’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations. The core competencies of all organizations need to be integrated into all aspects of the organization, or school in my case.

As a school or organization we need to make a significant contribution to the perceived student/customer benefits of our product and/or service. We must complete this statement: Our students/customers are choosing us because _____________. We need to strive to be difficult for competitors to imitate (if they can or will be able to at all). Our core competencies have to be something our competitors wish they had within their own business or could offer to their students/customers.

Final Thoughts

Our organizations are organs of society. We must integrate the interests of our organizations with the public interest. In education we must find a way to accurately answer the question of what results should our organization be delivering? And, more importantly, is it doing so? These questions are much tougher for social sector institutions than for business organizations. We must continue to strive to find the most accurate indicators of progress for schools and the students they serve.


Maciariello, J. A. (2014). A year with Peter Drucker: 52 weeks of coaching for leadership effectiveness. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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