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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Personal Interactions "Lyndon Johnson Style" can Rally People Around Your Vision

Personal Interactions "Lyndon Johnson Style" can Rally People Around Your Vision

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Lyndon Johnson's firm but warm and inviting handshakes went a very long way in establishing positive first impressions with the great world leaders of the 1960s he met only a day after John F. Kennedy's funeral. Johnson was a masterful politician and used his excellent ability to connect to people when in one-to-one situations to sway anyone- world leader, Kennedy administration holdover, Republican (Johnson was a Democrat), voter, to his side.

My early failures as an educational leader stemmed in part from my refusal to believe politics had any part to play in my work. The term "politic"is derived from the Greek "politikos- " of or relating to citizens. Applied to our field, the word calls for relationship building among people. Early in my career, I neglected the importance of developing strong individual relationships.

What educational leaders can learn from the success of a great politician (not necessarily a great president) like Lyndon Johnson is the power of one-to-one "pressing of the flesh" rituals. As biographer Robert Caro puts it in his 2012 work The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, "Part of [Johnson's] technique was a handshake, which he turned into more than a handshake. [Hands] were held firmly- but also in a friendly way."

A handshake may not be in order when walking the halls and classrooms, but a personal interaction with a subordinate or constituent conducted in a firm but friendly way may be just what it takes to rally people around your vision and cause.

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Scott-

I'm a parent that sits on a couple of district committees (PD and Technology) and we're starting a strategic planning process. With the new PA teacher evaluation scheme, many teachers seem almost needlessly uneasy and afraid, and I wonder what advice you'd offer administrators to help make this evaluation process more like coaching and nurturing even if there's critique rather than an IRS Audit, which seems to be what most teachers fear.

Scott Taylor's picture
Scott Taylor
Superintendent- Kenilworth Schools; Adjunct Professor at Rutgers, Montclair, and Kean Universities; Ironman Triathlon All World Athlete 2015


I recently worked with a severe anxiety-ridden faculty that was extremely anxious about the New Jersey evaluation system (TEACHNJ Act). The trick to VERY SUCCESSFULLY relieving this anxiety was to have regular meetings with four teachers (one from each school and the president of the teacher's union) after school (over Chinese food no less) to iron out terms we found acceptable by which to live. I kid you not, and I am not glossing anything over for the sake of responding to your question publicly, when I say that we were able to get through the fear thanks to our regular meetings. These sessions took place with a very small group that included only me and the four teachers. I played the "middle man" with my leadership team and the teachers as we crafted a series of regulations we agreed would not water-down the evaluation process but maintain checks and balanced teachers felt would foster a "no fear" attitude among their colleagues.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I'd love to see our district introduce this- I think having ongoing, no pressure or real agenda meetings as well as casual ones with agendas over food helps everyone come to common ground much better than any big meeting. Now to see it implemented.... Keep your fingers crossed- I'll let you know! Thanks for the advice!

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