President’s Corner

Reflections on Leadership

by Donald L. Kussmaul

What a great year this has been. I extend to all of you my sincere thanks and appreciation for allowing me to serve as president of AASA. During the past 12 months, I have enjoyed sharing with you, through this monthly column, my thoughts about leadership. What better time than now, as my tenure draws to a close, to reflect on what leadership is and what it is not.

I had the opportunity recently to listen to governors, state superintendents and college professors discuss the development of the nation’s future education leaders. They expressed this in terms of training people to be school leaders.

I had a difficult time with the concept of training in this instance because to me training equates with managing, not leading. While one might consider it a matter of semantics, I believe we should prepare people to be school leaders rather than train them.

Allow me to explain the difference.

The leader wants to do what is right for children while the manager wants to do things right. The leader focuses on effectiveness while the manger is concerned with efficiency. The leader asks, “What goals do I want to accomplish?” while the manager asks, “How do I accomplish this task?”

The leader focuses on relationships and the manager focuses on rules and policies. The leader spends time establishing a vision and seeking opportunities while the manager spends time planning, organizing and creating systems. While the leader stresses adaptive change, the manager implements a plan to accomplish the work. The leader, when pressed, develops new alternatives and approaches while the manager establishes procedures and allocates resources.

Finally, the leader lives on the edge and is willing to take risks while the manager seeks stability.

Yes, it takes both leadership and management to move a school system to greatness. Leadership cannot be based on a management frame.

Although this issue of The School Administrator is devoted to leaders of the future, I would like to tell you about those great leaders who I have had the opportunity to work with shoulder to shoulder during my tenure as AASA president.

Immediate Past President John Lawrence of Troy, Mo., who is retiring at the end of this month, served AASA as its president longer than anyone else in the history of our organization. Not only is that impressive, he served Troy as superintendent for 21 years, enduring the problems and pains of successfully taking the small rural school district to a large growing suburban district.

David Gee, soon to take the reins as the association’s president, served as district superintendent of the Western Suffolk BOCES, a conglomeration of 18 smaller districts on Long Island, N.Y., and brings to the table a wealth of urban experience that I did not have. David now is an assistant professor with the State University of New York, doing his part to prepare future school leaders.

AASA Executive Director Paul Houston brings to the profession a cutting-edge vision for education that is unparalleled in the association world. His senior staff of Dyanne Hughes, Sharon-Adams Taylor, Claudia Mansfield Sutton, C. J. Reid and Bruce Hunter have made AASA blossom under a reorganization plan that emphasizes 21st century thought and a re-evaluation of 20th century processes.

Special thanks to Nancy Forest and Sherri Montgomery at AASA for keeping me on track and in the know.

In my estimation, the leaders of the future must have the characteristics that I have found in my fellow colleagues—these leaders of vision. They do, indeed, lead us as we Stand Up for Public Education—The Heart of Our Democracy.™

Donald Kussmaul is president of AASA.