Looking To Break The Rules

I have to credit my dad with this find. He bought me a copy of First Break All The Rules as a gift. I have read through it and found it to be very insightful. Even though it is a better read for a corporate schlub than a high school principal, the main foci of the book do offer food for thought.

Buckingham and Coffman worked for Gallup and basically took over 80,000 interviews with CEOs, managers, and business tycoons and compiled their secrets to great management for this book. What the extensive interviews reveal is that what is thought to be the rules of great management actually are not. (Hence, the clever and inviting title.)

Probably the most poignant point made by the interviewed managers is this: a key to great and successful management is focusing on strengths of employees. Translation for principals and education leaders: don’t try to change teachers into what they are not or can’t be – rather exploit their strengths if you want them to be better teachers. Quite a change from what many edu-authors say is the key to transforming a school or teachers. Somehow, they always seem to focus on changing, transforming, and molding people into the image of the vision of the instructional leadership of the school. I have a staff of about seventy-five. Is it really my aim to transform these adults into an image of mine own? The whole notion seems so… out of reach… impossible… ridiculous.

Buckingham and Coffman’s managers have confirmed my instincts about working with people, specifically when you need to make progress.  I liken the process to baseball (My NY Mets had better listen up!); each player has his own unique abilities and strength(s) and the management does not attempt to make a player what he is not.  Rather the strengths are used, maximized and mobilized, for the better of the team. Would you put Jose Reyes behind the plate?

Over the last two years I was actually using this concept with a teacher whose strength can be summed in one word, “nurturing”.  She was having some trouble uping the ante in her class (the rigor was not quite at the level of expectation).  Rather than sending her off to some workshop taught by someone who does not know her and asking her (symbolically) to change her ways, I worked with her to exploit her strength.  We discussed how her motherly nature as a teacher could be maximized so that her students could reach our expectations.  Rather than pull back and surrender when the complaints about how hard the assignments and projects were, we decided that she should then rely on her motherly ways to push the students.  In a sense, she maximized her compassion by evolving it into encouragement when she began to let go of their hands.  We were both pleased with her growth and the students’ growth over the school year.  And she is a much stronger, much more confident teacher who now understands that a strength is like a muscle; exercise it, maximize it, and it (and you) will grow and be healthier.

I’ve seen that focsuing on strengths and not weaknesses has worked wonders for one teacher… now I’ll apply this same principle to the whole faculty.  My team.  My players.  Each unique and more capable if I just see it in them.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

2 thoughts on “Looking To Break The Rules”

  1. Zing! Exactly! Because I recently came to that conclusion when I thought about the staff I work with. Yes, there is growth, and there is profesional development, but it doesn't mean we can mold every teacher to make them look a certain way. It actually reminds me of the book “Blink” but I'd rather not get into that now. Nonetheless, well written.


  2. Hi Mike!

    I read “First, Break All the Rules” my 1st year as a principal. Great book with many good idea. I have found it is all about building relationships with those you work with each day. Do you agree?


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