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7 More Questions on Leadership with Eric Dustman

Name: Eric Dustman

Title: Head of School

Organisation: Montessori School of Maui, Maui, Hawaii, USA

I continue working as the head of school at Montessori School of Maui. At the conclusion of the school year in June 2024, I will embark on a new journey to find meaning for myself in my work. An educator for 30 years in public, private, and international settings, I have vast knowledge of institutions in the non-profit sector as well as experience with others privately. I intend to seek supporting the growth of culture and community within education and elsewhere, encouraging social responsibility, equity, and care. I have no doubt I can help others, and am eager to get started.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.

I hope Eric's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?

I'm a relationship builder. I think it's a must and every effort should be extended to ensure that your approach strengthens any relationship. Relationships grow connection and connection fosters trust.

Additionally, I listen. It's unnecessary that I'm right all the time. Oftentimes, people just want to be heard so I actively listen too, paying close attention to what's being said so that I'm sure to not be formulating a response before I truly comprehend what's said, and maybe what's needed. Sometimes, nothing is needed but my ear. This level of engagement has served me well and has furthered my ability to engender trust among those who look to me to lead.

2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?

I've always viewed vision as where we want to go and mission to be how we're going to get there.

Too often, in my opinion though, they are presented as the be-all-end-all to a school or company's existence. Hence, they are shared verbally and in writing. Then what?

In the independent school world, vision and mission statements basically look, sound, and feel the same. Hence, there is no differentiation between this school or that school when it comes to these ideas or those professed in their statements. The real differentiation comes to play when you talk about the people that define each, and the cultural sense of them that they promote.

I've been at Montessori School for seven years. If you asked me today whether or not I could recite our vision or mission statements, I'd have to honestly tell you no. They each have something about the 21st Century in them but really, no kidding, we were heading there already. What matters is our consistent display of those ideas (aka how do we want to act) and the outcomes we hope to achieve (aka do we truly live up to the goals we identify). For example, we can talk kindness and critical thinking all day but if we don't prepare an environment and act within it as kind, critical thinkers ourselves, the children, staff, and customers we serve aren't going to learn it, or feel the depth of the importance either holds.

3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?

Respect. Give everyone you lead respect. They are deserved of your belief in them as they engage in their craft.

I have always looked to hire really good people who are passionate about their craft. Then, I look to ensure that they have the resources and support they need to complete their task well, over and over again.

They know I have their back. And ultimately, if they are successful, others are too. And given that the success of the whole depends on each member, I am too.

When disagreements arise or different approaches are needed, constructive dialogue and problem-solving is best had when respect is shown. Certainly, instances without privacy exist but re-direction is best received one-on-one and in a manner where perspective is taken and perspective is given.

4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?

Tom Rothwell was the first leader that I worked under as a lead teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools, Ohio, USA. He exemplified my answer to #3 above in every way, shape, and form.

He had my back, though he encouraged me to "go-it-alone." He said to me one day that it was my responsibility to manage my students. Not because I wasn't, but because he relayed that when I became a parent, I wasn't going to my neighbor to manage my own children. I had to do so myself. It was powerful, it was respectful, and it ensured that we were both successful, not to mention my students.

5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?

Leadership is tough. As such, it's imperative that you find the thing(s) that recharge your batteries, offer rejuvenation, and help you clear your head. Simply put, exercise self-care with routine.

Also, turn off. It is very rare that I look at email over the weekend. With so much technology at your fingertips, it's convenient to do so but it's not healthy. Chances are too, it can wait until Monday, or even Tuesday if it's something after you've closed your office door.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?

When at work, I am never idly engaged. To ensure this, I make lists, formulate plans in my head, send myself emails and text messages, communicate with others frequency, and present myself with a level of transparency that models drive and engenders a level of empowerment in everyone. This keeps us all looking ahead and checking our to-dos as we go together.

7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?

It can be difficult to let go of the control you feel you need to have with certain things when a leader, young or old. As such, I frequently profess the idea as I have above that our collective success is dependent upon our own as individuals.

As I've passed numerous tasks to various staff over the years, I've done so with the idea above in both our minds. If it's a writing task, for example, I'll ask to see it after they're done. This is not because I don't trust whether they are a good writer (in some cases they might need help as I do from time-to-time) but because what they intend to put out is representative of everyone. Hence, don't take offense to any edits but I want to see it and if I see it's necessary, let's talk changes. It helps that I expect the same of them when considerations are made about my own work.

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