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I recently had the pleasure of listening to author and speaker Jim Collins. Collins is well known for his bestselling book on business management Good to Great and the sequel Great by Choice. Collins examines companies that demonstrated success over many years and compares them to businesses that faced comparable challenges and failed. What is the difference in leadership between these companies and their vastly different results? Here are a few concepts Collins identified that school principals can learn from successful industry leaders:

  1. Choose the right people: The trick to choosing the right employees is to pick people who are better and smarter than you and then listen to them. Ask your teachers and staff what they think more than telling them what you believe. This is not always easy for some leaders who may feel threatened by the opinion of others. A great principal might ask; “Am I spending more time being interesting to my teachers and staff or being interested in them?”
  2. Plan for consecutive consistency: The consequences of mediocrity are chronic inconsistency of results. Great schools have a well-developed plan for incremental improvements through consecutive consistency. Strive to find the sweet spot where a virtuous cycle of investment in time, resources, and energy returns through the accomplishments of your school. This is known in the business world as a ROI (Return on Investment).
  3. Find an organizational balance of discipline and creativity: Many principals think that a strict culture of discipline is the only key to organizational success. Collins believes it is more than discipline alone; rather it is a marriage of discipline and creativity that leads to greatness. Creativity is completely natural where discipline can be learned. Great principals amplify creativity in their school rather than destroy it while developing the culture of discipline necessary to maintain a steady course toward high performance.
  4. Know when to look out the window and when to look into the mirror: When things go well in a school, a great principal looks out the window to find the reasons for success. He sees the support system around the school and appreciates the contributions others have made to the successful outcome. When things go poorly the same principal looks in the mirror for the origins of failure, understanding that in almost every instance the reason for a lack of success can be traced back to a failure of leadership on his part.


Collins believes organizational success comes as a result of the choices leaders make at inflection points. These preferences at critical times make the difference between high performance and failure. Knowing this truth leaves principals no escape from their responsibilities. Truly great principals accept accountability for their choices and set a course knowing there will be a perennial gale of educational and social headwinds they will face. They approach these challenges head-on with confidence and resolve knowing their school will ultimately be great based on the choices they make.



Collins, J. & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice. New York: Harper Collins.

Thought for the Week

Finding ways to engage students, increase learning efficiency, and extending recall of what students learn can be a constant quest. Fortunately, designing activities and employing strategies that release the flow of dopamine in our students’ brains can help us to meet this challenge, especially now.

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