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7 Questions with Alan Sparrow
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Alan Sparrow
Name: alan sparrow
Current title: Head of School (just retired)
Current organisation: Rowland Hall (just retired)
Currently - Executive Coach and consultant on governance and administrative evaluation
Head of School - 28 years - Salt Lake City U; Rowland Hall, a PS-12 independent co-ed day school of 900 students.
Upper School Principal - 8 years - Cincinnati, Ohio; Seven Hills School, a PS-12 independent co-ed day school of 1000 students
Teacher, Coach, Middle School Principal - Rochester, NY, Harley School, PS-12, independent co-ed day school of 500 students.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?
In spite of a deserved reputation for being resistant to change, I find the educational community more open than ever to exploring new ways to meet the needs of our students. The most challenging aspect of the educational environment are those parents unwilling to hear constructive criticism of their children, particularly when it comes to behavior.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
So many things come up unexpectedly during the day that I need to be flexible. I try to "schedule" free time every day to walk around the school, talk to people, and be visible. When it is possible, I leave the 30 minutes before school starts free to greet students and employees as they come into school.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Listening to understand is one of the most important things you can do. People need to feel you have heard them, understand their positions, and are open to considering their ideas. Too often administrators are in the mode of defending their own ideas and decisions and don't really listen to constructive criticisms or suggestions.
4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
There are so many books it is hard to choose. Reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People helped shape a number of aspects of my leadership style. Perhaps most importantly is habit #5 - Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Prior to reading this book it is fair to say I was more concerned about being understood and making the case for my position. This changed my style to trying to understand first. It resulted in much better discussions and better decisions being made.
5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?
I throw a wide net to try and find good people. In interviews, I look for qualities and strengths more than specific accomplishments. Once I hire someone, I want to maximize their ownership of the position and its responsibilities. I do not micromanage but I remain available to mentor. I give feedback regularly - as often as possible - both positive support and constructive criticisms. I want people to know I trust them. I want people to enjoy working for and with me.
6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
That they know I care about them and I want them to succeed.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?
Early in my administrative career I listened to a teacher make the case for an idea. I thought we had a great discussion going back and forth. I listened to his points and made constructive comments and suggested alternatives. At the end of the conversation, I told him we would go ahead and implement his idea. The next morning he came into my office furious with me. He said he felt that the only reason I gave into him was that I got tired of arguing and it was easier to just give him what he wanted. He felt I hadn't heard him at all. Finally, he said he would rather I had truly listened to his idea and rejected it than just give in because he wore me down. I have never forgotten this moment. It is when I learned how important it is to truly listen AND make sure the other person knows you have listened.