Byron's Babbles

Multidimensional Missions: Don’t Create a Flea Circus!

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Learning Organization, Strategic Planning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 31, 2015

flea circus final ticket_medium“If you focus on short-term results, they will all jump in different directions. You will have a flea circus – as I discovered during my own dismal failure some forty years ago as an executive in an academic institution… What I learned was that unless you integrate the vision of all the constituencies into the long-range goal, you will soon lose support, lose credibility, and lose respect… I began to look at non-profit executives who did successfully what I unsuccessfully tried to do. I soon learned that they start out by defining the fundamental change that the non-profit institution wants to make in society and in human beings; then they project that goal onto the concerns of each of the institutions constituencies.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

As a school leader, the entry entitled “Accommodating Various Constituencies in a Mission” in A Year With Drucker (Maciariello, 2014) really hit home with me. We know that single-purpose institutions tend to be the most effective. Yet as a school leader, and for the leaders of many organizations, it is necessary to meet the needs of a number of separate groups, and meeting these needs very often requires leaders to make trade-offs. I have always compared it to a train station roundabout where the engine sits on a rotating swivel and there are many tracks leading out. As a school leader I have all of those tracks to serve as stakeholders. Some of those stakeholders include: students, parents, charter authorizer, state, state department of education, education management company, school board, teachers, taxpayers, and the list goes on and on. As a school leader this list of at least nine constituencies sees the school a little differently. Make no mistake, each of these stakeholders is crucial to the success of the school. In my case, it even gets tougher when turning a school around. There are short-term gains that must be met, but sometimes it seems those gains are at the expense of long-term gains. How then can the leader reconcile the demand for short-term performance with the demand to care for tomorrow? roundabout-train-museum-kyoto

First of all, it is important for leaders to consider both the present and the future; both the short run and the long run (Maciariello, 2014). A decision is irresponsible if it risks disaster this year for the sake of a grandiose future. Likewise, if the future is risked for short-term gains; that decision is irresponsible as well. Leaders must meet the critical needs of the future (Maciariello, 2014). Leaders of all organizations must try hard to reconcile the interests of each of their constituents as they manage the short-term and long-term interests of the organization. It is very difficult to reconcile these conflicting interests of constituents around short-term goals, but much easier for leaders to integrate them around the long-term vision of the organization. A clear vision is essential, but when you deal with so many constituencies it is very difficult to stay balanced in the present and future.

year-with-peter-druckerFor success, there must be a unified, clear vision and mission for the organization. In the past this vision and mission were much easier for schools. The mission was to learn to read and do multiplication tables. Now, the vision is much broader and includes such things as development of character, personality, social tasks, citizenship, et cetera (Maciariello, 2014). Nothing wrong with any of these things, but it has sparked the argument of what learning means. Our unifying focal point has been lost (Maciariello, 2014). With so many goals to accomplish, it is hard for the organization to function according to a unified mission.

I really like how Maciariello (2014, p. 277) ties all of this together with essential questions and would like to close with these:

“List the constituents whose needs you must satisfy in your position and in your organization. How are you meeting the needs of each constituent person or group? Which demands of these various groups conflict in the short term? Can these demands be reconciled in the longer-term goals of your organization? List the constituents again. Try to reconcile the interests of each one in your long-term goals. Which, if any, cannot be reconciled with these goals? Can you release yourself and the organization from the responsibility of meeting the irreconcilable interests of these constituents?


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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  1. […] is also worth noting again, as I did in my post Multidimensional Missions: Don’t Create A Flea Circus, it is necessary to meet the needs of a number of separate stakeholder groups, and meeting these […]


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