Home CTO/CIO Surviving a Leadership Transition

Surviving a Leadership Transition

by Miguel Guhlin
A group of people following a leader in the distance

“Miguel,” a dear friend and colleague asked me, “Have you read the new superintendent’s book?” At my blank stare and smile, she pointed to the Simon Sinek book in her hand entitled, Leaders Eat Last. I felt my hackles rise due to my instinctive dislike of mis-applied lessons from other fields.

“All it takes is all you got, Marine!” I said in a deeper voice, referencing the military story Sinek uses to start the book. Nearby colleagues gave us quick smiles. “Isn’t that the book that is about building a circle of trust, like in Meet the Parents?”

As a technology director, your success often depends on how well you interact with the all-powerful person in the superintendent’s office. These seven tips will help you construct the elements of a positive conversation. Yet, ultimately, these tips alone will not be enough. You will need one final tip that takes a lifetime to develop, and you may not be up to it. Still, you must resolve to obtain it if you wish to remain a technology director after the superintendent who hired you leaves.

Change Is in Your Leader’s Future

Having worked in multiple school districts, I’ve seen the reins of power change hands multiple times. Superintendents change quite frequently these days–every 3.6 years as of 2010 according to one report, which cites that as an improvement from 2.5 years in 1999. “One of the key elements in running a successful district is stability. So if you have a revolving door, it’s counterproductive, and there’s never a chance to establish reforms or create programs that make a difference. Even a three-year period of time is inadequate.” (Source). In my time, I’ve seen several types of leaders and witnessed the transition.

Seven Tips for Surviving Leadership in Transition

Check out these seven tips for surviving leadership in transition:

  1. Establish a baseline for improvement based on researched needs. In other words, it’s not YOUR initiative or idea, it’s what the district needs. Tools like Dr. Chris Moersch’s Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI), H.E.A.T. framework, as well as Brightbytes’ Clarity, can provide you with critical data.
  2. Have an outside firm do a technology assessment of your technology infrastructure and network. Nothing changes leadership’s mind as much as when someone else outside your department says things need to change. In fact, if you’re smart, you will initiate an assessment from an assessor you trust and anticipate the areas of growth. (By the way, did you know that TCEA can help you with a technology assessment?)
  3. Build infrastructure that will support instructional efforts. Is your district 100 percent wireless? If it’s 100 percent wireless, does each campus enjoy wireless LAN controllers that support increased bandwidth? Have you placed sufficient wireless access points in classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, and other key meeting locations? These are only some of the questions you need to take into account.
  4. Be transparent and visible about what you’re doing to address the district’s needs. As much as possible, share what is happening, especially when you or your team is goofing up or moving slowly. You should have a key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard, even if it’s just a web page reflecting Helpdesk stats in a Google Sheet.
  5. Conduct webinars with anyone who will listen and/or attend. Offer free professional learning on a variety of topics, and partner with other stakeholders. That way, they will sing your praises about your technical support and expertise.
  6. Send out those old-fashioned print newsletters with links to more information on your website. As great as technology is, you have to accept the fact that MOST of your customers in K-12 schools haven’t stepped up to learn what students must know.
  7. Recruit teachers and students to present to the school board. Whenever you can, get other people in front of the school board and leadership to share what a great job you are doing supporting their success.

A Final Tip

“Those who hope to open a store must also be prepared to smile,” goes the old saying. This is a good mantra to remember if you’re going to work at Central Office. You must be prepared to smile and build relationships, even with those you do not like. Building relationships with district stakeholders, and, in particular, the superintendent and cabinet, remains paramount. Forget it at your peril.


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