This past week, I had the chance to re-listen to Simon Sinek’s presentation “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” on Ted.com. Often, you don’t hear the message the first time it is spoken. It may be that you were not ready to hear the message or simply did not appreciate the depth of the message. Regardless of the reason, Sinek’s words spoke to me this week. I keep going back to his statement, “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” I believe that this is a statement to be reflected upon by all those in education and especially by educational leaders.
For too long, educators have talked more about what they do then anything else. We speak of all the different roles we perform in our classrooms, our schools and our systems. Granted, much of our talk is a defensive response to counteract the negative tones that surround education today. But the bottom line, is we talk mostly about what we do! We are so busy defending, that we’ve forgotten to clearly and passionately articulate why we entered the profession and do what we do!
So let me tell you why I do what I do! In a nutshell, I want to make a difference in a child’s life, no matter what! In 1985 as a beginning classroom teacher, it was the students in my classroom. Then, it was all the students in the school as a principal. As Superintendent of Schools, it is all of the students in our system. And finally, as a connected educator, it is students anywhere. In preparing for my annual evaluation, I am gathering my evidence (actions) that I believe support my successes in the defined role of superintendent. Regardless of the evidence that I provide, if my “why”is not to make a difference in every child’s life in our division, then my “what” is irrelevant. My core values, my personal vision and my own integrity must never be compromised in my actions.
Over the past 27 years and especially the last 11 years in senior administration, I’ve objected to government decisions that have lacked common sense. I’ve battled with trustees who were not prepared to make tough decisions that put students first. I’ve struggled with administrators, teachers and other support who believed that schools were an employment agency instead of place for the education of children. I’ve had some issues with parents who have chosen to take no responsibility in the raising of their own children. The silver lining though, is that these conflicts are generally exceptions not rules and are confined to the minority not the majority.
However, each of these battles have left a scar and I’m certain that a few more scars will be in my future. You cannot be an effective educational leader without some level of discomfort. To be honest, it is always easier to stay silent or make decisions that do not cause waves. Standing up for what is right and what you believe in especially when it does not conform to the societal norm is never easy. And that is the reason our “why” is so important. People need to witness your integrity, your passion and your core values before they understand or commit to your decisions. “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”
Most educators I suspect, have the same passion for making a difference in a child’s life as I do. But, if we continue to talk about “what” we do instead of “why” we do it, especially if the “what” is formed as a complaint and appears self-serving, our work will never be fully appreciated. More importantly, if our “why” is not fully understood, society will continue to challenge the important role of public education. Without public education being a priority, our society will continue to suffer! We hold children’s future in the palm of our hands! Remember, that is a great honor but an even greater responsibility. Make sure parents, colleagues, and the community know why you do what you do and then let your actions speak for themselves!