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7 Questions on Leadership with Drew Williams

Name: Drew Williams

Title: Executive Director

Organisation: Utah Arts Academy

Dr. Drew has spent almost 2 decades in education, leading traditional district schools and charter schools. He earned his doctorate in education in 2016 and has been in administrative leadership for the past 16 years, from rural schools to urban schools. Drew is also an accomplished musician and has toured the US and world as a fiddle player. His passion is how to disrupt the current education model to create more impact and opportunities for students. Currently Drew is the Executive Director for Utah Arts Academy and board member for the Arts Schools Network.

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

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


Jonno White

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

I've been a principal (Executive Director) at the same school for 8 years. While I'm great at building relationships, holding people accountable who've grown complacent, and whom I've known for a long time, has been challenging. Essentially managing the relationship and integrity to the job/task has been tough. I'm driven by relationships and while some lead in suits and offices, I lead by doing the work next to everyone.

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

I was teaching in Utah and my wife and I were moving to Nashville, TN. to pursue music. We met playing in a country/bluegrass band, and decided to "burn the ships" and go all in. I enrolled in school to get my MBA in music business, and my wife got me a job (site unseen) at an inner-city school as Dean of Students. Because of my work as a juvenile parole officer, the principal hired me. After 2 months of working with that principal, I was sold. It reinvigorated my love of education and I saw the power of leadership in a building. I dropped out of my MBA program and enrolled in a school leadership program. I've been in administration ever since.

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

I wake up around 6:30am - I work out and stretch for 15-20 min. I get ready and help my family. We eat breakfast together and all leave at the same time (7:40). My wife teaches and our 3 children either go to her school or mine. When I get to school, I walk around and greet students and teachers (only after putting on great music throughout the building). When school starts, I typically check my email and review my calendar and prioritize what I need to do. I'll pop into classes, take calls, zoom, check on teachers and subs, and help with other items. After school, I work with our arts team and help in any way that I can (building sets, lights, sound, etc.) to prepare for future performances. I also check marketing (social media). Usually at the end of the day, I check in with teachers to see if they need anything from me. If we have a performance in the evening, I usually clean up the public spaces to be ready for our school community.

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

I tend to do things on my own, because I know what I can do and trust that it'll get done. While I know the quality will be high, I can find myself frustrated that others are not as "engaged" as I am. This typically comes from the fact that I ostracize them because I am doing it myself. I need to focus on building capacity in others - which is when they engage at a higher level, and have more buy-in.

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?

Creativity Inc. This is the story of Pixar. I read this book when I first became a principal. I also used it as a group read at the current art school I am at. It allowed us a common language and base to engage in.

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

It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Make sure to have a mentor you can bounce off of.

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

It's a long story - You can google Drew Williams - Tuacahn.

Essentially, I was put on admin leave by a board that wanted to silence me due to "blowing the whistle" on nepotism, financial malfeasance and other issues that Covid brought to light with our school board. The students at the school stepped up and through their efforts and faculty efforts, including walk-outs, emails, news storyies, etc., the state allowed us to transfer the school to a new location, under a new name, move all assets and equipment, and we did all of that in 2 months. The "new" school is thriving and the building that we built, while we were doing school, is magical. It was the most incredible thing I've been part of, but also the absolute hardest thing.

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