Byron's Babbles

Effective Leaders Make Effective Decisions

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 15, 2015

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” ~ Peter Drucker

Drucker was confident that people could be taught to be effective executives (managers), but wasn’t as sure we could teach other to be leaders. Interesting, however, in the week 11 reading in Maciariello’s (2014) book he talked about how Drucker believed the climate in the organization needed to be right for leaders to develop and emerge. “Nothing better prepares the ground for such leadership than a spirit of management that confirms in the day-to-day practices of the organization strict principles of conduct and responsibility, high standards of performance, and respect for individuals and their work (Drucker in Maciariello, 2014, p. 79).” I wrote in the margin of the book, “So if the operations and processes are in place and being executed effectively, then leaders can grow and emerge.” I really do believe this is true. I have a saying I use in school turnaround and transformation and that is: “We need to become a REAL SCHOOL.” 

The question you will ask next is, “What is a REAL SCHOOL?” My answer is quite simple: “A real school is one that has its operations and processes in place and being managed by an effective individual and team to make sure that the normal day to day activities (eg. Safety procedures, student handbook components, discipline, financial processes in the case of a school) are being carried out efficiently and effectively. I was very blessed to have just such a person in my first turnaround school. Don Burton was our Assistant Principal of Operations. Let me tell you, without him the school would have never come off the “F” list. He was the operations manager dream of a lifetime. The great part about Don was he managed the operations flawlessly and implemented our processes with the best interest of our students and staff in mind. 

Mr. Burton’s awesome abilities and work ethic then allowed the teachers to teach and me to do the numerous activities as a building leader: establishing a vision, defining the mission, making sure that resources are applied to the right tasks, making effective decisions, implementing and following up on these decisions, taking criticism, keeping track of and navigating the legislative and governmental affairs, and working diligently to maintain a functioning board of directors. Imagine trying to do this in a disfuctional organization. Believe me this is not an easy task, nor did we have it perfect, but Don had us in a great place. There is a reason why schools fail, and one of the commonalities of the schools that need to be turned around is the disfuctionality and lack of the right operational practices to make it a “real school.” I’m sure you could tie common operations and practices that would make businesses and organizations “real businesses” and “real organizations.” I am positive education is not alone in this.

Again, I cannot say enough how much credit for our success goes to Don Burton. He enabled the day to day operations to go smoothly which then allowed me, and him, to grow as leaders. This truly allowed the environment to be right for leadership growth. Don certainly grew, as he now is leading a middle school in Arizona as a principal. I consider Don a dear friend and I always said we never had to schedule time, we were always catching up before or after school or on the weekends. It was just such a natural relationship. Therefore, I really think Peter Drucker’s belief that teaching someone to be a leader is very hard, if possible at all, is warranted. More importantly, however, is the lesson he has taught us that if the operations, processes, and day to day activities of the organization are highly functioning, the leader has the chance to learn and grow.  In other words, the conditions must be right for growth.

I believe this point is even driven home further when we look at one of the most important attributes of leading effectively – effective decision making. Making effective decisions depends on the definition of the problem being faced and thus the appropriate conditions that have to be met for the decision to be effective. Drucker taught us that these are always the two critical issues in decision making (Maciariello, 2014). It would very hard to define or know the appropriate conditions for a decision to be effective in a disfunctional organization, operationally. I know that without the sound operational practices Don instilled in our school that I would not have been able to make the decisions I was able to, of which many turned out to be the right and effective decision.

So, as you look at growing leaders and great schools, businesses, and organizations, look first to what your definition of a “REAL” school, business, or organization is. Then make sure you’ve got the right team to manage the operations effectively.


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

One Response

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  1. Heather Shaw-Burton said, on March 16, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    You and Don made a great team! You always had each others backs and you each played to your strengths. Manual High School was lucky to have both of you!


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