Leaders Eat Last

. . . before it is an honor, leadership is trust; Before it is a call to glory, Leadership is a call to service.

. . . before all else, forever, and always, leadership is a willingness to serve.

—Father Edson Wood, OSA, Cadet Catholic Chaplain

Invocation at Assumption of Command by BG Curtis Scaparrotti, Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Military Academy

August 11, 2004

I don’t know much about the art and science of “management.” 

During my professional life I was privileged to attend some of the foremost executive development courses in the nation.  But the tools and concepts of leadership taught in the sterile environment of a classroom can remain abstract concepts until the moment the student comes bad-breath to bad-breath with another living, breathing human being they are tasked with inspiring, encouraging, and motivating to achieve a specific goal. 

I am not an educated man – but I am a highly accomplished mimic – and what I know of exceptional leadership skills comes from watching those I admire then impersonating those positive traits.

It is not as simple as it sounds.   

Leadership takes many forms depending upon the needs of the team or organization – a dynamic, ever-evolving process that requires those in leadership roles to deftly shift between various “styles” to cope with changing circumstances and personalities. 

Those leadership styles have been “defined” by experts – visionary, autocratic, hands-off, transformational, transactional, bureaucratic, etc. – but at the end of the day, it all comes down to being a decent person who cares about those who perform the critical service delivery to their customers or constituents.

In my experience, the qualities of a true leader are best exemplified by those who simply care about the wellbeing of those they are responsible for and work hard to see that the needs of their subordinates and organization take precedence over their own self-interests.

Every time.  All the time.  

Once that idea takes hold in an organization, leadership becomes a common responsibility from top to bottom, and “taking care of your people” becomes synonymous with mission success. 

I was reminded of the importance of setting a strong example when I opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal this morning and saw the shocking headline, “Schools chief getting $10,000 bonus: Volusia’s Fritz rewarded for strategic-plan effort.”

In the accompanying article by education reporter Cassidy Alexander, we learned that a little-known codicil to Superintendent Scott Fritz’ employment agreement with the taxpayers of Volusia County provides for a $10,000 annual spiff if he merely accomplishes the job that he was hired to do. . . 

According to Ms. Alexander’s excellent reportage:

“It’s performance-based pay for creating a strategic plan, which provides a road map of sorts for the district and includes how to measure its progress in different areas. The board’s attorney Ted Doran explained that the board gave Fritz one goal to meet by Aug. 15, 2020: Create a strategic plan that has measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators.”

“If he did it, he is entitled to (performance pay),” Doran said. The superintendent’s contract requires the district to set aside the funding for performance pay each year. The board unanimously approved the bonus.”

As a dear friend of mine who has spent years in a senior leadership position with a multi-national corporation said: “That’s nuts. . .”

He’s right.

Look, I am not a leadership expert or management analyst – but I can read – and a cursory review of the Volusia County Schools job description for the Superintendent lists the top two performance responsibilities and essential functions as:

Provide innovative and visionary leadership.

Conduct strategic planning processes and build strong consensus in support of district goals.

Did our elected representatives on the School Board – or their attorney – not bother to have a glance at Fritz’ basic job requirements before lavishing ten large on a chief executive already commanding over $205,000 annually in a district where teacher salaries rank in the bottom third when compared with other districts in the state? 

I can assure you teachers union president Elizabeth Albert understands that building and sustaining a winning team begins with the concept that “Leaders Eat Last” – waiting until their subordinates have received their sustenance, forgoing their own comfort and enrichment until junior members of the organization are made whole.

It is the fundamental principle of servant leadership.

“What I’m asking for is equity,” Albert said. “I’m asking for something for the people who carried the load this year … Every single employee in this district — from FMTs to school bus drivers to cafeteria workers, paras, office specialists, teachers, principals, everybody — they deserve it.”

Amen.

Shockingly, at the end of the News-Journals informative article, we learned that “The creation of the strategic plan was a nine-month process and was facilitated by an outside group called DeliverEd.”

Excuse me?

Wait, not only did Superintendent Fritz receive a bonus for a strategic plan he was obligated to complete by the basic requirements of his position – but the plan itself was “facilitated” by an outside consultant? 

I’m asking, because that sounds awfully close to the ragged edge between “delegating” and using your employer’s money (read: the taxpayers of Volusia County) to hire someone to do your job. . . 

So, what exactly did we get for our $10,000 – what groundbreaking strategic “roadmap” did Dr. Fritz, our consultant, and his highly paid “Cabinet” produce that will fundamentally change the abject dysfunction, stagnation, and mediocrity in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand?

What can students, staff, and teachers expect in terms of the promised “measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators”?

Well, here is the final product of our district’s brain trust: 

“Engage all students in high levels of learning every day.

Recruit, retain and develop high-quality staff.

Provide a safe, healthy and supportive environment.

Ensure resources and operational processes are strategically aligned.

Strengthen communication and community engagement. It also includes a new vision statement: “Create life-long learners prepared for an ever-changing global society.”

Really?

My God.

Good luck, kids.  You’re going to need it. . .

3 thoughts on “Leaders Eat Last

  1. Thanks for articulating this so clearly. I have been asking for two things on the Brewster offices the ESE dept. was kicked out of since it happened almost a year ago: Who got those offices, and how much the refurbishing cost the taxpayers. I would love to know how much the consultants were paid for what you describe; what makes me think nobody will volunteer that information? I’d love your opinion also on Dr. Fritz giving his employers instructions on just how to evaluate him (and the way he talks to them from his bully pulpit) toward the end of the meeting. I was sitting next to Elizabeth as she scrambled to fill out her comment card when Fritz was speaking about his gravy $10K. So proud of her. She’s amazing. You may also be interested to know that of the 30+ meetings he cited in developing the “plan,” not one included Ms. Albert. Not. One. Notice how he looks away whenever she speaks. Oh sure. Educators matter to him. Not. When I resigned a year ago February, I asked for a meeting with him first. He was able to give me time. In April. Outtathere. And I was one of the top 1% of VCS educators with a terminal degree. I later heard through the grapevine that if he’d known that, he’d have found time. I don’t know if that is true, but in my view as a former VCS leader, he should have jumped to meet with me ESPECIALLY if he thought I was a new teacher. Tragic stuff going on; so glad I left when I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll say it again – I’m SO glad my kids are not in school anymore!
    I’m grateful to the teachers and the schools that my kids both got a great education.
    I wrote to the VCSB more than once and I only ever heard back from Carl Persis (he was my kids’ principal 20 years ago) via email a couple of times and we were supposed to speak on the phone; however, I called & left a message telling him not to bother to call – I knew there was nothing he could do (I was calling about the elementary schools in Ormond, but the decision had already been made). It just amazes me that no one bothers to respond! When my kids were in school, I was all over ever school; volunteering, going on field trips, etc., helping the teachers, whatever I could do – everyone knew me – Carl remembered my kids (IDK about me LOL) and had the decency to at least email me back – I’ve been a taxpayer in Ormond for 30 years and supportive of the schools for that long – whatever!

    Like

  3. This would be funny….. if it weren’t so damn tragic! It’s too bad that the rise to leadership isn’t rooted in accomplishment rather than political pandering.

    Like

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