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Leaders Need Keds

Don’t try to make an appointment with me on Wednesday morning. Every Wednesday, rain permitting, I play tennis. Two Wednesdays ago, I arrived at the courts and realized I had on my running shoes rather than my tennis sneakers. That day I hustled a bit less, was very cognizant of sharp turns, and paid special attention to my feet and knees. 

Let me be clear: my tennis game is not at such a high level that I need specialized sneakers, which is equally (if not more) true about my running. Yet, I have tennis sneakers, running sneakers, not to mention hiking sneakers. What I really need is a general purpose sneaker I can put on and do any activity without giving it thought. When I was younger virtually all sneakers were like that. I particularly enjoyed Keds and wore them for every activity except going to my grandparents for dinner when my mother made me wear formal shoes. 

My desire for an all-around sneaker reminded me of leadership. As leaders we have come up through a certain rank and have specialized knowledge in an area. For instance, I was a teacher before I was an administrator, so I brought a certain expertise in pedagogy and curriculum development. However, as an administrator, particularly as a Head of School, I had to have some knowledge in a wide variety of areas--teaching, admissions, marketing, fundraising, governance, and fundraising and not spend too much time in any one of them. 

The school did not need my limited expertise; they needed me to know enough about many areas to (1) be able to ask intelligent questions of the experts and (2) ensure each of those areas were being true to the school’s mission and culture. 

I recently co-hosted a webinar about what English majors need to know about finances and financials. We emphasized the above points. English majors responsible for budgets and fiscal health need to create a budget that represents the school’s values and forwards its strategic priorities. They also need to look at financials intelligently enough to ask questions about anomalies. They do not need to go deeply into the general ledger or understand the process of accounts payable. Someone else is doing that. 

As a leader, take a broad view. Look at the big picture. You are the Keds of the organization; let others be the specialized tennis shoes.

1 Comment

Looks to me more like a good old-fashioned Converse All-Star "Chuck Taylor" model than Keds.

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