Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How the Mighty Fall: Educational Leaders Beware

If you're an educational leader, particularly one who runs a division or an entire school, and you aren't familiar with Jim Collins, you need to pick up his books and delve into them as soon as possible. His research-based books Built to Last and Good to Great chronicle some of the most successful companies in America in an attempt to discern what these companies do or have done to distinguish themselves from the rest of the competition. They hold great relevance for organizations such as schools.

Collins' latest book, How the Mighty Fall, examines some companies who have fallen from the top and plots their fall through the five stages of decline I have listed below. In the coming days I'll post specifically on some of these stages and discuss their relevance to educational leaders. For now, though, I simply want to share the five stages Collins has identified through his research and provide some anecdotal evidence about the relevance of this book for educators.

Collins, after much research, has identified the following five stages through which failing companies (and organizations) move on the way from the top to the proverbial bottom of the barrel.

Stage 1 - Hubris Born of Success
Stage 2 - Undisciplined Pursuit of More
Stage 3 - Denial of Risk and Peril
Stage 4 - Grasping for Salvation
Stage 5 - Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

I find this model particularly intriguing at the moment because I know of two very similar schools I believe currently are moving through Stages 1 and 2. School A finds itself in the throes of Stage 1 and, as a result, heads into the 2009-10 school year with instability in leadership, a decline in teachers and a decline in enrollment. For years, School A has assumed students would flock to its campus simply because it is and always has been School A, of course. It's possible that School A has moved beyond Stage 2 and actually may be teetering on the edge of Stage 3 (if it's not there already). I'll be interested to watch over the next year to see if School A returns to its core values or if it Grasps for Salvation by bringing in a larger-than-life personality to save the organization (according to Collins, a very bad idea).

School B has moved through Stage 1 already and probably will get bogged down in the quagmire that is Stage 2. It seems that School B has added amendment after amendment to its mission statement in order to be all things to all people, a practical impossibility in the independent school world. It's Undisciplined Pursuit of More, led by a big personality, has expanded the curriculum such that the school now finds itself stretched in a number of new ways, each a departure from its mission statement and core values. Will the school realize where it is as it moves into and through Stage 3? We'll see.

Collins' latest work should be on your bookshelf and his vocabulary should be a part of your vocabulary if you are in an educational leadership position. I believe so strongly in How the Mighty Fall I have passed this along to my headmaster and we're going to present this book to our board of trustees as a book study. Add this to your library today then check back here periodically as I discuss some of Collins' finer points as well as the application of these points to educational leadership.

As a footnote, if you're already familiar with Collins and his Good to Great concepts, you can jump right into this book; however, I recommend, just as a refresher, starting in the Appendix which serves as a recap of the Good to Great model.

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