Importing Leaders for Turnarounds

By 07/22/2011

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Any good leader knows that the best talent is home-grown talent, especially when it comes to growing leaders. But sometimes, either because an organization is growing and innovating rapidly or because it needs to make big changes fast, importing leadership is not just essential, it’s a key success strategy. Such is the case in school turnarounds. As co-author Julie Kowal and I detail in our just-released paper Importing Leaders for School Turnarounds (sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Partnership for Leaders in Education), imports are most likely essential to meet our nation’s need.

The right school leader is essential for successful turnarounds, as Public Impact’s prior work indicates. But evidence suggests that the traditional principal pool is already stretched thin, and many of these leaders who are successful in schools that are already good wouldn’t fare well in the white-knuckled process of leading a turnaround. Meanwhile, potentially thousands of leaders capable of managing successful turnarounds work outside education, in nonprofit and health organizations, the military, and the private sector. If only a fraction of those leaders used their talents in education, we could increase the supply of school turnaround leaders significantly.

Fortunately, other sectors have experience importing talent. In fact, a large portion of turnaround leaders come from outside the organization or other sectors. Our paper explores lessons about when and how organizations in other sectors import leaders – including how they tempt people away, train them, and foster their success. The major takeaways are summarized below.

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–Emily Ayscue Hassel


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  • Fred McKenna says:

    As a former classroom teacher, varsity coach, class advisor, Director of Technology and central office administrator I find the post interesting. In addition to 17 years in public education I built an educational software company that was acquired by an S&P 500 company.

    After 20 years in industry (started career with 15 years in education) I returned to education with my industry experience and 4 years of prior administrative experience.

    In my last positon I successfully directed the work of a staff of ESL teachers. However, I was never able to get an interview for a principal’s position. I had built and directed a team of 45 staff, led a team for a S&P 500 company, and had tremendous experience in strategic planning and building and mentoring teams.

    I was told I did not have the experience to lead a school building. In addition I was never even interviewed for a position as Director of Technology even with my experience in education technology.

    I am not sure if the educational establishment is interested in bringing in different view points. There is a tremendous resistance to change. Their is a need for different viewpoints in education but little desire to hear those voices.

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