It feels good to announce that I have joined The Academy for Advancing Leadership (AAL) as a Senior Consultant. I believe I have much to offer schools, colleges, universities, non-profits, and businesses engaging in change processes. While I have strong ideas about the WHAT and WHERE of change—”WHAT is driving us?” “WHAT are the forces necessitating change?” “WHERE should we go strategically?”—I am also deeply committed to creating a better HOW—”How will we create a change process that will leave an institution not only with a great answer but also with the healthy muscle needed to implement it successfully whether it be a strategic plan, a new schedule, or an expanded Health and Wellness program, etc.?”
One of the reasons AAL is such a good fit is that because of their long-standing relationship with higher education and professional education. Working with them will place me in a position to understand the nuance of related strategic conversations taking place in independent schools, higher education, and professional education. I believe there is much for us to learn from each other that we are currently missing. Perhaps my work can play a part in connecting the dots.
In the midst of reflecting on this shift professionally, I reached out to colleagues who know my work best, and I have been bolstered by their responses—you can find them HERE. There was one, however, that seemed capture in detail so much of what I will seek to accomplish in my work with a school, non-profit, or business. I worked with Tracie Mastronicola, Academic Dean at San Francisco Friends Schools, and a talented team at the school to create a new daily schedule. I used a framework I have been developing for a number of years—going back to my time as Upper School Director at Hawken School, refined at The Westminster Schools when I was Upper School Head there, and polished in consulting on the side jobs I had at North Shore Country Day School, Punahou, and San Francisco Friends. It centers on a concept I call Progress Culture (#progressculture) and it operates through a process called “Two, Five, Ten” (#change2510).When I reached out to Tracie, she wrote me not a few sentence blurb, but something that has inspired me even more to make this move. I can’t wait to begin! What follows is what Tracie sent me:
“What would Ross say?”
We had the unique pleasure of working with Ross as a consultant on implementing a major schedule change across our entire K-8 institution. The change would touch every person in the building, every program in the building, and it would redefine how we used every minute of the school day. His leadership and coaching were crucial to our success, and every time we felt lost, we found ourselves asking “What would Ross say?”
Ross’s strengths as a consultant reached far and wide. He is an experienced, grounded, personable, and laser focused human and educator. Ross understands how schools work on a fundamental level – the day to day operations, as well as the emotional underpinnings of educational institutions. Because of Ross’s experience and expertise in leading such institutions, he is able to identify challenges before they arise and help a team identify a way forward, avoiding pitfalls and mistakes along the way.
Even before Ross began his work with us, he offered strategies for assembling a high functioning team that would lead the change. His understanding of the impact of specific skills, mindsets, and collaborative inclinations allowed us to hit the ground running when he arrived and is an example of how Ross thinks of every important detail, helping to make for a smooth process. He is a talented coach who knows how to create the conditions that allow a team to thrive.
School communities are made up of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. When setting out to successfully implement change in such settings, we inevitably face the challenge of discerning who ought to be included. Additional big questions include: Who holds the decision-making power? How can an institution include all the people affected by change without allowing all of those people to stake a claim in the process? Ross explained that “you want to give everyone touched by the change a voice, but not a veto.” Words of wisdom followed by a framework to guide the work — that single and simple example is emblematic of Ross’s applicable wisdom. In short, Ross provided a framework that allowed us to include the voices of parents, faculty, students, and administration – hundreds of concerned people – in the process without ever handing over all the decision-making power.
Change, of course, isn’t an event; it’s a process, and over time it can be very easy to lose sight of the most important factors informing it, allowing less important items to overshadow the most important components. Ross expertly guided us and provided tools and strategies that we could use to keep our team focused on what mattered. A team tried to make changes to the school schedule five years before our work began. One struggle they shared with us was being told to “think big” and then having the administration team tell them various constraints once the process was already rolling. Ross helped us to design a process where constraints as well as “must haves” were laid out ahead of time so that everyone involved knew the expectations and limitations and no one could make a major change mid-way through the process. This garnered trust, transparency and buy in.
Lastly, that framework gave us a clear way to measure our progress and success. Because we clearly defined our guiding principles and held them at the center, we could also use them to measure our success. Now a year into schedule, we can measure exactly how we are doing against those criteria – “are we doing what we set out to do?” – again, never moving away from what was identified as most important.
There were times that we felt lost, confused, and/or nervous about an impending decision or a roll out related to the change. Each and every time, Ross gave us tangible action items, clear feedback, and coaching around our concerns. He was there for us every time, and every time he helped us to refocus and move forward.
Ross’s super power, among super powers, is empowering a team – he is the ultimate coach for any single person or team looking to implement big change in an educational institution. He knew exactly when to step in and help, when to stand aside, and when to offer encouragement or redirect. Easy to understand and implement, his guidance saved us countless hours of struggle and mistake making.
On top of all of Ross’s guidance, he was so personable. Trust is key in a process that is long, unsteady at times, and results in big change. Ross embodies identity before purpose, cultivating a team’s sense of who we’re going to be when we’re in trouble and when we’re riding the waves of success, an identity that helps a team to gel, get right down to the real work ahead, and navigate a complex journey.
Before we began the process of designing a use of time at San Francisco Friends School, we were wondering if we should simply hire an outside company to do it for us – paying a large fee for a company to deliver four workable schedules. I spoke with Ross about this and his response was “you’ve got to do the work yourselves. There is no perfect schedule out there, it’s the process of creating one that will give your team the strength and courage to implement the changes you seek.” Ross offered spot on guidance long before we started and continues to be available to us even after the schedule has been implemented. Although he might disagree, reminding us that we did the work, he was the single most important factor in our success. We simply could not have done it without him.