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When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth

When I first became a superintendent, dinosaurs still ran local school districts.  It was top-down in many schools, and our regional monthly superintendents’ meetings were fascinating not because information was widely shared, but because no one revealed anything.  Dinosaur  Out of 18 superintendents in the region, only two of us were women.  

Of course, things changed rapidly.  We left X Theory and moved into Y territory.  Shared decision making emerged (as a top down requirement from the State Education Department, but still…). Fifteen years passed, and now about half the superintendents in the region are women. 

So I was struck by the interview with Gordon M. Bethune that appeared in the Business Section of the New York Times on January 3.  Bethune was the chief executive of Continental Airlines from 1994 to 2004 (I began superintending in 1993.) I was struck because Bethune wasn’t a dinosaur in 1994.  He was a Y guy right from the beginning.

“Here’s my theory,” he says.  “Let’s say we’re all middle managers, and one VP slot is going to open up.  I’ve got 10 guys working for me, and for the last five years, every time I got any recognition, I said, ‘Bring them on stage with me.’ Who do you think is going to get the job? “

Publicly recognizing good work is a key tenet of strong leadership.  This is a concept I learned in private school as a dean watching the headmaster.  He was so secure in his authority and power that he could easily praise his leadership team and bring them into the spotlight.  The ability to defer authority and power increased the perception of his.

Bethune also says, never lie.  “You don’t lie to your doctor.  You don’t lie to your attorney, and you don’t lie to your employees.  And if you never lie, then when it hits the fan … they’ll believe you.”

Also, you don’t have to worry about remembering what you said, and you don’t have to continue to fabricate if things get worse.  Not a bad tenet for any leader to keep in mind.

Bethune’s take on leadership is a reminder that we all need to have a periodic "Tyrannosaurus Rex" check.






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