Paul Kadri, a 16-year public school administrator, has been on the forefront of education reform in order to help schools improve student achievement. In this interview, Paul Kadri shares how the research presented by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great was instrumental in his successes.
Presentation Solutions: When did you first become aware of the book Good to Great?
Paul Kadri: I actually don’t know. It feels like it’s been part of my thinking for so long, that I don’t remember a time when it was not there. Collins also wrote a supplement specifically for the social sector.
Presentation Solutions: Can you give an overview about the premise of the book before we dive into the details?
Paul Kadri: Sure. Collins and his team looked at businesses from various industries and identified those that stood out from their peers, having moved from a good position to one that he identifies as great. He then looked at these companies to see what common qualities they had that allowed them to make that shift.
Presentation Solutions: Were there many aspects that helped those companies achieve greatness?
Paul Kadri: Collins highlights many significant components that his research team found. One of them—leadership—was a component they originally assumed would not be included but later showed clear evidence of having impacted the organization. What was unusual was the type of leadership found in great organizations.
Presentation Solutions: Before we get to a discussion on leadership, is there one aspect of the book that you think is most important?
Paul Kadri: The first line in his book is by far the most important. He states, “Good is the enemy of great.” This is an amazingly powerful statement. Most people believe that you become great by improving good. That is a trap. Very often, the skills that allow an organization to be good have limits that keep it from being great. If an organization truly wishes to be great, it needs to consider starting from scratch and developing skills whose processes won’t have those same limits.
Presentation Solutions: Very interesting. So now, tell us how leadership plays a role in great companies?
Paul Kadri: Many assumed that the charismatic and boisterous leader would be the ideal candidate for bringing greatness to an organization. Collins found that not to be true. While many are outstanding leaders who have achieved great success, in terms of running a great organization that sustains greatness, the leadership quality is quite different. Said simply, it is a modest person who is interested in knowing “the brutal facts,” is singularly driven for organizational (not personal) success, and makes sure that all decisions are correct and in line with the mission of the organization.
Presentation Solutions: That seems pretty obvious, don’t you think?
Paul Kadri: It does, but you would be amazed how many times decisions are made not to promote the mission, but to please an individual, remove a bad situation, or otherwise.
Presentation Solutions: What is another part of the book that resonated with you?
Paul Kadri: Collins talks about putting the right people “on the bus” and in the “right seats.” This means hiring the right people and putting them in positions where their strengths are maximized. In a separate interview, Collins spoke about education. He suggested that one gets tenure after one proves they are exceptional, not as a result of not doing something wrong.
Presentation Solutions: Have you tried this concept?
Paul Kadri: Yes. We significantly increased the rigor of our hiring process and placed extra emphasis on supporting new teachers. Even the best teachers need support from experienced staff and administrators when they first start.
Presentation Solutions: If someone were to work for you, would reading this book give him or her insight as to how you operate?
Paul Kadri: It is funny you should mention that, because it is true. I purchased the book for all administrators in the district so that they could understand the concepts and frameworks. This gives them great insight as to how I lead the organization. The Board of Education also adopted this framework.
Presentation Solutions: Do you think you operate as the leader defined in Good to Great?
Paul Kadri: The top leader, called Level V, is a modest person who is hungry for knowing the real facts and is singularly committed to the success of the organization. In all three of these areas I am absolutely aligned. There is one component that I’m not sure about. I’m a very emotional person. One gets the feeling that the Level V leader is a more stoic character.
Presentation Solutions: Do you think you’ll ever be stoic?
Paul Kadri: I’m not sure about that. I show my emotions and I don’t even know I’m doing it. It doesn’t make me a great poker player.
Presentation Solutions: To conclude, is there anything notable that Collins points out about the public sector?
Paul Kadri: Yes, he states that the power structure is very different in the public sector. For example, teachers with tenure have more power than employees in a business. As such, the leader could face more resistance. This requires that the leader have skills to make the right decision even in the face of resistance. He is very clear that he is not talking about consensus, but about educating and building relationships to assist in making the right decisions. He goes on to say that this is a skill that would benefit business leaders.
Paul Kadri was last superintendent in the Groton public schools in Connecticut. He is widely known for his success in improving student achievement while maintaining fiscal restraints. Often called a change agent, Paul Kadri is first and foremost unwaveringly committed to the success of his students. For more information about Paul Kadri, visit his website at paulkadri.com.