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When we think of school administration, we generally envision a job that does more helping than selling. Yet, most days our energy is spent persuading teachers to change their practice, cajoling students to be good learners, pitching ideas to the central office, or convincing parents to partner with us to support their children’s learning. Like it or not, we are in sales. Consider five insights to make you a “selling” leader.

This phenomenon is not unique to education. According to Daniel Pink, 40 percent of Americans spend their time at work in non-selling sales. Non-selling sales involve convincing someone to give up something they value and replacing it with something you have to offer. The best “sellers” are those with an optimistic, explanatory style who view rejection as a temporary circumstance.

A central theme behind a mega initiative is selling the right problems. Schools are enmeshed in problems. However, it’s the essence of a problem, rather than the essence of the solution, that breeds creativity and discovery. The most influential leaders move others to see problems in fresh, more revealing ways.

To sell well, is to get someone to give up a resource, belief, or practice and make them feel better off in the end. Consider five insights to make you a “selling” leader:

  1. Say goodbye to the information advantage. The saying “buyers beware” arose from the fact that a buyer often had less information about the goods or services being purchased than the seller. But the Internet has opened the floodgates on knowledge. Sellers no longer have a monopoly on information. To close a deal requires honesty and transparency, not an armada of facts and figures.
  2. Power down. Power causes people to rely too heavily on their own vantage point. In fact, the more powerful a person feels, the worse perspective-taking skills he or she has. Assuming a lower power position increases our ability to change a person’s mind.
  3. Offer a few compelling choices. In today’s world, information overload and initiative fatigue are very real maladies. We have a hard time wrapping our head around something when we have too many choices. A compelling sales tool is to take away some of these choices. When we present a small, but compelling number of options to people our persuasion equation takes off.
  4. Stay in the middle. Popular thinking is that the best salespeople are gregarious and outgoing extroverts. But research shows that the best salespeople stay in the middle of the extroversion and introversion continuum. Pink calls these people “ambiverts.” Ambiverts know when to speak and when to listen.
  5. Practice buoyancy. Anyone who spends time trying to convince others to change their mind must learn to deal with resistance and rejection. Buoyancy is essential. As you gear up for your next pitch, ask yourself, “Can I do this and, if so, how will I do it?” This interrogative self-talk is more effective than saying, “I can do this” because it prepares you for the persuasive conversation ahead.

Get more valuable insights at NorthStar for Principals.


Pink, D. (2012). To sell is human: The surprising truth about moving others. New York: Riverside Books.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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