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7 Questions on Leadership with David Adams

Name: David Adams

Title: CEO

Organisation: Urban Assembly

David is the Chief Executive Officer of the Urban Assembly. He started with the UA in 2014 as the Director of Social-Emotional Learning, where he created the Resilient Scholars Program (RSP), a unique approach to integrating SEL into curriculum and classroom practices across the UA network. RSP has grown into a national program, serving schools and districts in Los Angeles, Houston, Syracuse, and other cities. As the Senior Director of Strategy, David led the expansion of the organization into a model provider of school support, with an emphasis on innovation and equity in public education. In 2022, David was named one of Crain’s 40 Under 40 honorees and in 2021 he received the Champion of Equity Award from the American Consortium for Equity in Education. David sits on the board of CASEL and is an author of The Educator’s Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence, and a co-author of the textbook Challenges to Integrating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs in Organizations. He is a Civil Affairs Officer in the Army Reserve and holds an M.Ed in Educational Psychology from Fordham University.

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

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


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The biggest challenge as a leader is to know when to pivot and when to persist. You're in the seat for a reason - because you've shown good judgement in the past, and your job as a leader is to continue to show good judgement on behalf of your mission. So balancing the isolation with perseverance with the openness to different approaches can be challenging.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My leadership position comes as a result of my desire to contribute more than I take from society. A sense of responsibility to build institutions that my children will benefit from, and the desire to contribute solutions to challenges of society. That's my story of service.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

The structure of my work days are a collaboration between myself and my Chief Staff, Gillian Finley. We work to prioritize the highest leverage items around my time and energies to move our strategic priorities forward. On a day to day basis my time is spent in external partnership meetings, strategy, one-on-one's and advising other leaders in the education space.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership lesson I've been reminded of is that leadership is not friendship. Leaders are entrusted to complete the mission and get the job done, and that's what I do.

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?

A Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Leadership is a privilege and in the end the responsibility of a leader is to make things work and complete the assigned task. Frankl talks about all the things that motivate people in some of the most challenges circumstances imaginable. We all have something to offer the world when we understand our why, in that case we can endure almost any "what"

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

We've been put into this seat for a reason. Leaders need to lead. Take feedback, have a sense of the landscape, but make decisions. That's why we're here.

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