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7 Questions with Dr Lisa Gonzales
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Dr Lisa Gonzales
Name: Dr. Lisa Gonzales
Current title: Chief Business Officer
Current organisation: Mount Diablo Unified School District
Dr. Gonzales is currently the Chief Business Officer for the Mt Diablo Unified School District in the Silicon Valley, a district of 30,000 students and an annual operating budget of $400M. She was President of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), an 18,000 member organization. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School Business Management and Urban Superintendent programs, as well as the Stanford University Executive Program for Education Leaders.
Lisa was one of 100 Superintendents selected as #FutureReady by President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan for her leadership in technology and innovation, and also serves as a cadre member for TICAL, the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership. She previously served on the state’s Ed Tech Task Force and Create CA Arts Task Force under Governor Jerry Brown.
Lisa is most passionate about mentoring other leaders in the public school world. Her advocacy work around instructional technology, closing the digital divide, connectivity, and funding at the state and federal level has resulted in numerous awards, including ACSA Leadership Matters Legislative Award, White House ConnectED Superintendent Award, National “Women in Leadership'' Award from the School Superintendents Association, Commendation for Public School Leadership from the City of San Jose, and Tech & Learning’s national award as “Leader of the Year.”
Committed to female leadership, she helped resurrect ACSA’s Women’s Leadership Network and speaks statewide and nationally on a number of topics around women’s issues in leadership, branding, networking, and technology. She has written dozens of articles on topics related to leadership, safe schools, strategic planning, and leadership support programs for principals and other educational leaders.
She still can't say no to presenting at conferences that focus on student engagement, female empowerment, and leadership development. She spent seven years on the City of San Jose Arts Commission, which supports the arts work and arts education for the 300,000 public school students in Santa Clara County.
Lisa is also a coach for the San Francisco Marathon and a pacer at many local half marathons and marathons to help runners young and old train safely, and then run races and meet their goals. In her spare time, she proudly serves as a “Soccer Mom” to her 16 year old twin girls who are as focused and energetic as their mom.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Most challenging in my world is communicating the complexities of public school financing, which has become even more challenging during the pandemic. Our organization has over 3500 employees, and ensures the staff and greater community is informed about our decisions and their impact on student learning.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I've been leading since middle school, so ending up in a role like my current one isn't entirely surprising. In high school I was in leadership roles, and continued the same in college.
Early on in my public school administrative career, I was advised to "always join your professional organization." The membership was a bit spendy, so I figured if I'd spend the funds, I might as well get the most out of it. After eight years of regional and state involvement, I began to progress up to become the President of the Association of California School Administrators, the nation's largest organization for support of school leaders. I was the first Gen X, first Latina, and first mom with children at home to lead the organization, which helped me emphasize the importance of involving our own families in the work we do as leaders.
I've been a small school district Superintendent and have taken on various large organizational roles, so I feel I was well poised to be a "C level" leader in a large organization.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Structure? No day is the same in my world, which is part of the fun of my life.
When I go to bed, I always glance at my calendar to see what the next day has in store. Whether meetings with staff, touching base with those at school sites, or planning with other leaders, I always have my Cornell notes organizer to keep me on track.
My cell phone is always with me, although I don't ever have the volume on so I am able to keep it on in meetings and not worry about a disrupting ring. The apps that keep me focused and on track include Microsoft To Do (for grocery and to do lists), Waze, Sleep Cycle, Fitbit, Yelp, and my gratitude app.
On a good day, I have a cup or two of coffee (sometimes more, yet it seems I never finish a full cup) with my favorite sugar free creamer. A couple of solid meals are always the goal, and when I'm running short, nuts and chocolate covered espresso beans are often a go-to. I'm a marathon coach but am trying to find a better balance with running time and fitness.
Because I also have a commute, I do have drive time to catch up with staff and have that "balance" of audiobooks, listening to the latest on NPR, and talking with my parents.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I wouldn't say it's a new lesson, but it is one that I am reminded of regularly.
Hire for attitude.
I'm not saying that you select those with a good attitude who have zero experience, because that would be setting them up for success. However, you can teach skills. You can't teach attitude.
5. 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?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
When I doubt myself, I pick it up. The book has writing throughout, dog-eared pages, and too many coffee stains, but it has been my saving grace for years.
I recently attended the soccer game of my twins who were playing on their daughter's team. Trying not to be too intrusive, I told her how much her book has impacted my trajectory and confidence as a school leader. It not only reminds me to get over my sorry self if I feel I'm not ______(fill in the blank)____ enough, but it reminds me that caring, gracious, grateful leadership makes a difference.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I lead by example. Plain and simple.
I try to strengthen communication, exhibit a sense of humor, remain hard on the issue and soft on the person, and find an opportunity to grow in some way every day.
And then I expect that from my staff as well.
I don't subscribe to the mantra that "it's not my job" so if I see an opportunity to help, I jump on it. Most importantly, I try to replace myself, which means investing in the time and energy of those around me so they can do the same with others and inevitably take over my role.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I'll talk to anyone. One night I was at a board meeting and was talking with a student in the back of the room. It was a tense meeting and I needed a breather, so of course I found solace in a discussion with a young person who could have cared less about the topic at hand.
A year later, he told me everything that I said. He remembered what I was wearing, where I stood, and how I made him feel. This experience reminded me that....they are watching us and we have to be role models, especially in the tough times.