Great Leaders Create More Leaders

I recently 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 for her?” 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.

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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 the school districts in which you have worked. Is leadership actively helping people find their next opportunity? Or, is leadership intentionally suppressing their best employees?


Unfortunately, many school leaders feel cheated when they realize an employee is leaving for another district. Rather than reflect on 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 justify to others.


It's worth reminding readers that when employees are happy at work, it takes a 20 percent pay increase for employees to leave. But when employees aren't happy at work, they will leave for no pay increase. Rather than get mad at the person for leaving or blame another district for stealing away their employee, bosses must look in the mirror and reflect on their treatment of the individual:


Have I worked to grow the relationship, or have I spent minimal time with the employee?

Have I provided the support needed to be successful, or have I ignored requests for help?

Have I given the employee enough autonomy, or have I micromanaged their every move?


I have heard many stories of district leaders 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.


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.


While sometimes these AP's are content waiting their turn, many aspiring leaders get fed up and leave the district. And quite often, these individuals go on to do amazing things for their new employer.


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What are some other thoughts to remember when developing leaders? Consider these four ideas:


Hire for Talent: Many leaders get scared about 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. Effective leaders not only select the most-talented candidate, they also create an environment that is so employee-friendly, the individual never considers leaving.


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.” Often, school districts hire flashy outsiders when in reality there are many great leaders waiting in the wings who simply need their chance to shine.


They Might Take My Job: Egotistic leaders sometimes worry that understudies are so good in their roles they could eventually find themselves without a job. Rarely - if ever - does this scenario actually unfold in education. Not only are districts notorious for not moving underperforming leaders, if a spitfire lights a fire under a complacent leader ... is this really a bad thing?


Next Man (or Woman) In: The most effective school leaders are always building connections and have a list of individuals - both internal and external - they can immediately contact when a leadership opportunity arises. Rather than sit back and wait for candidates to apply, cunning school leaders aggressively recruit potential replacements and are prepared when openings occur.


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To no one's surprise, the neighboring district hired away our high-performing administrator.


Rather than get upset about the situation, I felt at peace knowing this individual was fulfilling her potential by having a greater impact in a larger district. Furthermore, I was confident that our district's reputation would allow us to recruit an effective leader to fill the position.

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