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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Machiavelli's Advice for Growing a Leadership Profession

Machiavelli's Advice for Growing a Leadership Profession

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It took me many, many interviews to land my first leadership position. I was a 28 year-old teacher professionally raised in an idyllic setting (a high performing magnet school of 200 bright and passionate adolescents) and figured I could change the world one principalship at a time. Cracking that first job was hard since I didn't have any administration experience under my belt. I did whatever I had to do to get that first gig, including traveling as far as three hours drive to meet with potential employers and finding myself in some pretty interesting settings- a non-profit think-tank, an alternative school for boys, an infant care facility. I lucked out and obtained my first position in a wonderful middle school in a community that was, fortunately, compatible with my personality (I am a New Yorker by childhood and was working in a New Jersey neighborhood of Brooklyn transplants!).

What I didn't realize then, which I now do 16 years later, is the importance of finding a professional "match" to my personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I am compelled to think this through after having re-read Machiavelli's The Prince (my first read of this work was in college during a time when leadership was not first and foremost on my mind). This must-read treatise on leadership for educational administrators speaks to the importance of professional compatibility:
"If we examine the actions and lives of Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus [great leaders of the ancient era], we see the only gift that Fortune accorded them was the opportunity that gave them the substance they could mold into any form they pleased. Without that opportunity, their skill would not have flourished, and without that skill, the opportunity would have presented itself in vain."
Different Schools have different growth opportunities awaiting different leaders. There are high-performing communities that require a leader to sustain already planted initiatives, struggling communities that need someone to show them excellence and those districts that lie somewhere "in-between" and call for a leader who can diagnose the good and the bad and then have the skill to make only necessary tweaks, not large-scale changes.

Machiavelli's point is that leaders must know their strengths and weaknesses and then find their professional "match" so they can take advantage of those strengths and shutter away the weaknesses. I didn't heed Machiavelli's lesson as a budding leader but understand now how vital to my success and the success of the community for which I work it is to develop a relationship with schools for which I can actually help.

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