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Overcoming Jack Sparrow Syndrome for Superintendent Leadership

Posted by Scott Barron on Dec 12, 2014 9:58:32 AM
Scott Barron

CompassHave you heard the one about the Superintendent who became a pirate? It's a scary tale, but the lessons learned must be shared for the benefit of others like yourself.

Do you remember the affliction of Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean? Though he had in his possession a precious gift--a compass that could take him to whatever and whomever he so desired--Captain Jack was unable to gain direction because he didn't know what he wanted.

An exchange between Tia Dalma and Jack Sparrow in the second installment of this adventure series illustrates his dilemma:

"The compass you bartered from me. It cannot lead you to this?"
"Maybe. Why?"
"Ah, Jack Sparrow does not know what he wants! Or do you know...but are loath to claim it as your own?"

The Leadership Dilemma

So too did the beleaguered Superintendent of our story suffer from a lack of direction. Though trained in the skills of school leadership and dedicated to the noble mission of education, our leader was unable to decide and clarify a specific heading. The mind was clouded by so many options, the chaos of the day, conflicting expectations, and a plethora of unsought advice. The board consistently asked for a vision and plan around which they could rally and give their support. The administrators, faculty and parents longed for a compelling narrative to which they might dedicate themselves with enthusiasm, but alas, there was so little time and money for such reflections.

How can our Superintendent overcome Jack Sparrow Syndrome? What is the path to growth for this leader and the school system?

Communicating to Build Relationships

Establishing clear principles and a protocol for communication within the organization is the first step to overcome a huge barrier to growth. When you are committed to communicate to build relationships rather than just to be heard, your culture and your methods will be transformed. This begins by defining the sequence through which ALL messages will be shared. We recommend this communication protocol:

1. Up: The first place all messages should be shared is up to the person(s) with whom accountability is required, using data, stories, and all of the facts.

2. Out: Next the message is shared with peers at the same level in the organization along with very select advisors.

3. Down: Then it flows throughout the rest of the organization in order of leadership (e.g., faculty/department chairs, managers, all employees, parent leaders, all parents, student leaders, all students).

4. Around: This is where mass media tools like email, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc., can be used to share your messages with the board audience of your prospective families, the community around you, and the rest of the world.

Not all messages will be shared throughout the entire sequence due to confidentiality and appropriateness, but the goal of minimizing secrets and unintended surprises will help you strengthen relationships through your communications, building confidence and trust in the vision.

Communicating Expectations to Faculty & Staff

Ambiguity is a detriment to the leader and the people following. They need to know how to win, how to be successful, how to meet and exceed the goals. How can they achieve when expectations are unknown? The timing of feedback is particularly important, and this time of year (Nov-Dec) is the ideal time to concretely establish understanding regarding any gaps between actual and desired results.

One way to do this is using the School Growth 20-60-20 Review, where each person is evaluated based on whether he/she doesn't meet, meets, or exceeds expectations. The next step is identifying three groups based on this evaluation: The top 20% performers, the middle 60%, and the bottom 20%. Using this information, you can then meet with each person to determine a plan of action. Your goal is to address the issues that are causing the lowest levels of performance so that a renewed sense of purpose can be achieved upon your return from the Christmas break. Celebrating the top performers is also a good idea, reinforcing their dedication and achievements.


Topics: Webinar, Administration, School Culture, Teacher Quality

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