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Timeless advice for new leaders

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Freshly minted leaders face similar challenges, whatever their professions. Leaders in education who’ve been around the block a few times offer advice to new school administrators:
  • Your ability to win hearts and minds is the key to success. “It’s all about relationships,” says Mike Ford, a school superintendent in New York. “Work to build and maintain positive relationships.”

  • Take your time before making changes. Your impulse may be to act quickly, but immediate action risks alienating the people you need most. “Begin your position by watching, listening and learning,” says Scott Staska, a superintendent in Minnesota.

  • Keep your frontline people informed. Use every means at your disposal to communicate early and often, advises Anna Bucy, a school board member in Ohio.

  • You’re not there to win a popularity contest. You’re there to make tough decisions, warns Nancy Gray, a school board member from Indiana.

  • Hold your first-level managers accountable, especially for the behavior of those who interact directly with customers, the public or “end users,” in this case students, advises Brenda Peters, a superintendent in New York. “Articulate, clear, honest and consistent feedback,” which is essential, whether that feedback is good or bad. Give specific directives for improvement, and write it all down.

  • Delegate, adds Kathy Pettiss, a Pennsylvania school board member. Failing to spread out the load is a common error of newbies. “Ask for help when you need it,” she says. “Don’t try to go it alone. You have a team; use them nicely.”
—Adapted from “Advice for New Administrators,” Billy Arcement, American School Board Journal.

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