A few years ago, I discovered that one of our administrators was being courted by a nearby district for an open position.
The neighboring district was three times our size, and the position would include increased responsibility and greater compensation. Despite being a promotion for the employee, my initial reaction was frustration.
“Those jerks!” I thought to myself upon realizing a nearby district was recruiting one of our top employees. “Who do they think they are?”
My frustration also focused on our employee. “What, are we not good enough?” I complained. “Besides, how are we going to find a suitable replacement in June?”
However, I quickly realized that I was being selfish. Rather than focus on our organization, I was stressing over the actions of another school district. And rather than do what was best for our employee, I was worried about the additional work that would fall on my shoulders.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to help employees reach their full potential. Rather than feel threatened or betrayed when we discover they are ready to move on, our role is to help staff take their next professional step.
As leaders, our job is to create more leaders.
In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman says, “The best leaders encourage people to grow and leave. And when people leave, they celebrate their departures and shout their success to everyone.”
Consider your current school district:
Does your district encourage professional growth?
Or, does your district hinder leadership potential?
Unfortunately, many school leaders feel cheated when they realize an employee is leaving for another district. Rather than understand this is the next step in their professional career – or reflect on the steps they could have taken to make the individual feel more valued – these leaders immediately blame the employee: "Well they obviously weren't committed to our school," they tell others.
In the story I shared, the employee would move from a director position into an assistant superintendent role. Accompanying the promotion would be a 40 percent salary increase. Would you turn down a 40 percent salary increase?
But say the employee makes a lateral move. Instead of moving up the leadership chain, what if the employee accepts a similar position in a new school district? These are situations when leaders must self-reflect. Rather than get mad at the person for leaving or blame another district, bosses should reflect on their treatment of the individual:
Have I offered support, or have I ignored requests for help?
Have I provided autonomy, or have I micromanaged their work?
Have I invested time, or have I been too busy for the employee?
Ironically, more employees leave jobs as a result of the relationship with their boss than they do their level of salary.
More employees leave jobs as a result of the relationship with their boss than they do their level of salary.
This idea of districts intentionally sabotaging leadership growth does not always pertain to external movement. Sadly, many districts are guilty of stifling internal leadership potential.
One common example is when districts prevent their best assistant principals from moving into head principal roles. In many districts, up-and-coming assistant principals are serving under mediocre head principals. Rather than move the AP into a head principal role elsewhere in the district or - heaven forbid - remove the mediocre principal, district leaders keep gifted assistant principals in supporting roles for far too long.
Publicly, district leaders will say, “Oh, they’re just not ready for a head role,” while privately they think, “If we move them into a new position, their (current) school will fall apart!” Rather than promote internal candidates, districts tell promising assistant principals, “Your time will come” while keeping them in the same role year after year.
Furthermore, it is quite common for effective teachers, teacher leaders, and instructional coaches to stonewalled from taking the next professional step in their very own districts. Rather than actively help teachers move into administrative roles, some supervisors possess a deficit mindset around leadership development. Whether the fear is “they’re too good in their current role” or “it’ll be too hard to fill their position,” many leaders worry about their own problems as opposed to focusing on how they can support the teacher-leader’s growth.
While some employees will ignore the politics and patiently wait for their turn, others will grow tired of being underestimated and leave the district. Quite often, these individuals turn the disrespect into motivation and have highly successful careers.
What else should be considered with leadership development? Consider these six ideas:
Hire for Talent: Many leaders are leery of hiring highly talented individuals. Afraid the employee will leave after a couple years, they pass over the more-gifted candidate to select the safer fit. This thinking is misguided. Leaders should always hire the most qualified candidate and then offer opportunities for growth and autonomy. In many instances, school leaders simply want to work in a district where they feel trusted and valued.
Job Security: Egotistic leaders sometimes worry that understudies are so good in their roles they could eventually find themselves without a job. Again, this thinking reflects a deficit mindset and kills trust between supervisor and director report. Leaders should view skilled subordinates as opportunity to learn while also preparing those individuals to take their next professional step. And if a go-getter lights a fire under a complacent leader ... is this really a bad thing?
Next Person In: The fate of the administrator depends on the effectiveness of the team in which they surround themselves. Therefore, the best school leaders have a constant shortlist of individuals - both internal and external - they can contact when leadership opportunities arise. Rather than sit back and wait for candidates to apply, cunning district leaders treat leadership openings like gold and aggressively recruit potential replacements.
Promote from Within: In Good to Great, Jim Collins reminds us, “Visionary companies have shown, time and again, that they do not need to hire top management from the outside in order to get change and fresh ideas.” How often have you seen school districts hire flashy outsiders for principal and district-level roles … only to see those individuals leave in a few short years? Oftentimes, internal candidates possess limitless potential and simply need the right opportunity to shine.
Oftentimes, internal candidates possess limitless potential and simply need the right opportunity to shine.
Focus on Character: Promoting an internal candidate can be a leap of faith. Oftentimes, colleagues struggle to imagine teachers in an administrative role. Rather than worry about “lack of experience,” decision-makers should consider character traits. Does this person hold themselves to high expectations? Does this person command the respect of their peers? Does this person build relationships with students? Quite often, the evidence is there. You just need to know where to look.
Contract Concerns: Many districts threaten, “You’ve signed a contract, you can’t leave!” when employees consider bolting for another job late in the hiring season. The truth is - at least here in Iowa - employees have until June 30th to get out of their contract without facing licensure repercussions. And while it is common to ask exiting employees to pay a fine for rescinding a signing a contract, oftentimes these fines pale in comparison to the salary increase the employee will receive in their new position.
To no one's surprise, our administrator accepted the promotion in the nearby district.
Rather than get upset about the situation, I felt at peace knowing this individual was fulfilling their potential by having a greater impact in a larger district.
Furthermore, I felt good knowing that I was helping a valued employee reach their leadership potential.