Ahead of the Curve

Originally Posted June 2011

CC Photo Credit

I am always interested in hearing my friends who work in the business world talk about their work. Their vocabulary is peppered with words like “synergy”.  They talk about leveraging opportunities for growth and harnessing innovation for improvement.  They are always seeking a competitive edge.  They want to do the best that they can.

The more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that my professional world and the professional world of many of my friends, have a lot in common.   According to a recent TIME magazine article, most drivers consider themselves to be in the top ten percent of people on the road.  Ten percent of Americans believe that they will live to a hundred years or more.  The reality is that only 0.01% of us will actually live to see a hundred years.  In the context of a standard distribution curve, we know that there will a few outliers at the top and bottom ends of the spectrum, but the majority will fall somewhere in the middle. Yet, no one strives to be mediocre.

Like most drivers, I consider myself in the top 10 percent of people behind the wheel.  I also want to live to see a hundred.  As a parent, I want my children to have access to the top medical care. Is anyone really comfortable with seeing a doctor in the bottom 10 percent of their profession?  How about boarding an airplane for a flight with a pilot in the bottom ten percentile?   Likewise, as a parent, I want my children to have access to the best teachers so that they can have the best possible educational experience.  I want to be an exceptional teacher, an exceptional leader.  I want to be in the top 10 percent of educators.  Simply, I want to be ahead of the curve.

How do you stay ahead of the curve?  I think that there a couple of key practices that P.D.  Broughton outlines in Ahead of the Curve, that exceptional principals can do to stay ahead of the curve.

First, they pair intellectual restlessness with grounded competence.  Exceptional principals are “life long learners”, professional development omnivores, and prolific readers.  Yet they are also master teachers.  They understand where the rubber meets the road and how to get things done.  Like the ying and yang, they balance ideas with practicality.

Exceptional principals establish cultures where new ideas are encouraged and developed.  They create a culture of continuous improvement and curiosity.   “No!” or “We can’t do that.” are not  typical responses.   Instead, “That’s an interesting concept …” and “Let’s explore this further” is how they approach new ideas and situations.

Exceptional principals understand their school from top to bottom, but  they are also ready to tear it up and start all over.  They possess a deep understanding of learning, teaching, and leading.  They value what can be learned from the past to help guide the future, but the exceptional leader does not accept the status quo. They are continually seeking to improve the quality of learning experiences for their students.

Finally, exceptional leaders ceaselessly revise their judgements and consider evidence that challenges their beliefs and biases.  It’s easy to collaborate and think that you are headed in the right direction if you surround yourself with like minded people.  Embracing the dissent and alternative points of view is challenging.  It takes work.  It takes thoughtful planning and consideration.

Where do you fall on the curve? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?