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7 Questions with Joe Bremgartner
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7 Questions with Joe Bremgartner
Name: Joe Bremgartner
Current title: Associate Superintendent of People Services
Current organisation: Fontana Unified School District
I am a career educational leader and "People and Culture" executive. I began my career as an elementary teacher. This is where I learned that as human beings, we are always in a state of evolving. We learn new skills every day and should always seek to apply our new knowledge. It then became an elementary school principal, and later a central office executive. Throughout my career, I have always focused on the people side of the organization and know that it is important to nurture the people around us.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
As a former teacher, it was never an option to allow a child to fail without intensive intervention, yet as a leader of adults, it is easy to fall into a trap of "expecting" adults to know how to react to situations. I have found that given the same types of grace and support that I afforded my students, adults often respond in surprisingly appropriate and positive ways.
I find that trying to help other leaders to understand the perspectives of others can be very challenging. However, having the ability to understand the perspectives of others is a tremendous tool in promoting organizational health.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Becoming a leader in a large District was never a specific goal. For me, my path centered around being a life-long learner and always considering the opportunities that I am offered. As a teacher, I learned that I was interested in impacting learning in a much broader way, so I began to explore becoming a site administrator. After several years of successful leadership at the site level, I was invited to the central office. Once this occurred, I have been invited to increasingly larger systems and have had the ability to find ways to support staff, students, and families in a meaningful way.
I have a deep desire to make an impact. I love to approach situations with innovative solutions in mind. I try to find opportunities to make my organization better for its employees, but also for the patrons that the organization serves.
I believe strongly in being compassionate and helping others to grow. This trait is something that has helped me a great deal in landing in the right places. I find that I work well with others, and always try to look for common ground.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try to be prepared for my day. Knowing that my day will be filled with interruptions and situational issues, I make sure that I know what needs to be completed and at what intervals. This helps me to make sure that I don't drop the ball, or create a crisis for myself.
Since I have a long commute, I wake up, shower, and hit the road early each day. Once I arrive at work, I review my calendar and prioritize my day. Throughout the day I have various meetings and deadlines that I need to meet, and try to plan to meet my deadlines ahead of schedule, since unknown events will likely interrupt my planned day.
As I get ready to end my day, I look ahead to the next day to see if there are any items that I will need to handle first thing in the morning. If so, I leave myself a note on my keyboard so that I don't get sidetracked in the morning. Since I will be spending time in the car, I handle any return calls that came in late in the day on my way home.
For me, once I get home, I try to disconnect from work so that I can focus on family. This usually works, but there are certainly times where things come up that I need to address from home. Ultimately, I try very hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I try to reserve weekend time for family, walks and fun. Even when I have to work on the weekend, I try to reserve some time for things that are not work-related.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Ultimate Flexibility! During the pandemic, our lives changed overnight. Work changed, how we interacted in our daily lives changed, and how we connected with others changed.
What I found was that in order to adapt to the "new normal," I needed to not focus on making things the way they were. Instead, it became a test of innovation, resilience, and determination. I do not stress about trying to make everything the way it once was, but instead, focus my energy on making the best with what we have and planning for how to use the lessons learned to transform the future.
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?
Do I have to choose just one? There really are two. The first is "Powerful" by Patty Mccord. From the People and Culture aspects of an organization, Patty does an amazing job of helping to rethink archaic practices into real-world solutions. The second is "A Chance in the World" by Steve Pemberton. This book was a stern reminder to always show kindness and understanding to others. We have no idea what struggles other people are experiencing and should always seek to understand, act with compassion, and listen with both our heart and our head.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I think you start by analyzing the needs of the organization. Then you foster a safe environment in which potential leaders can try new things and find unique solutions. It is also important to provide opportunities for mentorship and learning that are desirable and attainable.
I feel that as an organization we should never have a time that we feel we don't have someone in the pipeline that could fill a position (at least on a temporary basis). If we are doing our job of nurturing and developing leaders, our next leadership hire should be easy to find in our applicant pools. Even if there is a desire for outside hires, it is still important to honor the institutional knowledge that lies within an organization.
Most importantly, leaders are the most effective when they feel valued, able to express their options, listened to, and part of something bigger and more important than the stated duties of their job. Leadership must feel like they are connected to making the workplace, service delivery model, and potentially the world a better place.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
There are so many stories that have shaped my leadership style that it is hard to pick just one, but one of the most significant is when I was a building principal in an elementary school with a significant special needs population. We had a number of students who would "meltdown" in very emotional displays. One day while I was trying to reason with a 5-year-old who was flailing on the floor in the middle of the hall, my school speech therapist walked up, and seeing my frustration, said, "What do you think he is trying to tell you with his behavior right now?" It changed the way that I looked at that child. It provided me with the opportunity to think deeper about the struggles that he was going through and how my approach needed to fit what he was telling me with his behavior rather than the actual words (screaming at me).
Not only did I embrace this moment with this student, but for all students moving forward from that moment. I still use this today in almost every interaction with adults. By "noticing" and understanding the perspectives of others, I have been able to help to shape decisions, behaviors, and actions.
I firmly believe that no matter the situation, there is never a reason for anyone to ever leave an interaction without their dignity intact. A Compassionate and understanding approach truly shapes the organizational health of any workplace.