If you’d like to know how Superintendent Oliver Robinson came up with the intriguing title “Naked in the Public Eye” for his new book, listen to the podcast Oliver and I recorded last week for this blog.
Naked in the Public Eye is about the highest function of all public/nonprofit chief executive officers: leadership. I’m sure that all of our readers will agree with a key premise of Naked in the Public Eye: that leadership transcends the executive management and administration functions. Leadership isn’t about merely running an organization. Real leaders educate and inspire the people making up their organizations by articulating a clear vision for the future. They fundamentally transform the organizations they lead by spearheading systematic innovation aimed at turning challenges into opportunities for creative change. They are dedicated to the empowerment of the people throughout their organization, including the members of their boards. They are communicators and networkers par excellence, building close ties with key stakeholders in their communities. And they take very seriously their responsibility to develop future leaders, which requires that they keep up with the continuously evolving, highly complex field of leadership – going well beyond the boundaries of the K-12 sector in drawing on the real-life experience of leaders in myriad organizations.
The most effective leaders I’ve observed over my quarter-century of work in nonprofit/public leadership not only travel beyond the boundaries of their particular sectors in educating themselves, they also go beyond the boundaries of the leadership field itself, finding inspiration and practical wisdom in fields such as history, philosophy, psychology, and even fiction. I’m reminded of two illuminating accounts of leadership I recently re-read: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s brilliant study of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Team of Rivals, and Alison Weir’s fascinating biography of arguably the greatest monarch in English – and perhaps all of European – history, Queen Elizabeth I. Two of the most important leadership lessons would-be leaders can find in these well-researched and beautifully written works is the value of assembling and listening to an executive team bringing diverse experience, expertise, perspectives and opinions to the table and the critical importance of inspiring affection and confidence among those one is leading.
Listening to Oliver talk about the preeminent leadership role of public school superintendents, I asked myself – not for the first time – whether the title “superintendent” (which schools share with prisons, coal mines, city water purification plants and even apartment buildings) might fall so far short of conjuring the awesome leadership responsibilities of the chief executives of our public school districts that the time has come for a more descriptive title (for example, “Chief Executive Officer”). The subject of a future blog post? We’ll see.