Category Archives: Talent

Post on talent services.

Executive Coaching is a Key Ingredient of Strong Leadership — Not a Luxury

As a leader, how often have you been in a position where you had to start something new — whether it was a new role or a new project — and you knew you had to bring your leadership A-game in order to empower your team to achieve a challenging task?

As we, ourselves, stepped into new roles — Lora as Chief Talent Officer at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Paul as Dean of Students at Achievement First Crown Heights Middle School — we found ourselves in this position. We had our sights set on success, held a vision we felt passionate about, and benefitted from a highly skilled team around us, but we knew that we would only meet our goals if our entire team was invested in that vision. We quickly learned that while having a vision is easy, bringing the team along can be really tricky.

In our experience, there are several factors that make it hard for leaders to achieve their goals or lead major reform efforts:

  • Lack of candid feedback: In most organizations — and for entirely valid reasons (e.g., fear of retaliation for providing critical feedback, bad experiences with prior bosses, unconscious biases and race dynamics, etc.)  — folks don’t often give leaders candid feedback. Indeed, the more a leader is struggling, the less likely they are to receive frequent critical feedback.
  • Difficulty gaining perspective: It can be hard to understand the interpersonal dynamics that are constantly changing while you’re in the thick of day-to-day existence. Amidst a blur of meetings, deadlines, and reports, it’s challenging to get a bird’s eye view and understand the dynamics that are truly at play.
  • Blind spots: Every one of us — leaders especially — has blind spots. By definition, these are invisible to us. It’s hard to just self-reflect your way into finding your flaws. Leaders who don’t receive candid feedback often find themselves dismayed to see their flaws mirrored back to them in their team.
  • It’s hard to row alone: Even if you get great feedback and have fantastic self-awareness, who is going to help coach you to make that change? Who will hold you accountable? Who can you thought partner with?

While these challenges are real, each of us found one invaluable tool that helped our ability to grow as leaders: executive coaching. Weekly executive coaching from a trusted adviser helped Paul see how his “let’s get things done” approach disempowered and alienated some of his teammates. Since Paul still viewed himself in the role of “doer,” he did not give his team enough autonomy to lead their own work and instead stifled their energy and creativity. For Lora, coaching helped her navigate relationships and build trust with peers by listening more, asking for support instead of expecting it, and spending time in one-on-one relationship building. For both of us, coaching helped us to be stronger leaders and to empower our team to produce stronger outcomes.

Now that we sit on the other side of the table as consultants who help coach leaders, we see firsthand the advantages of external coaches. Here are some of the most important things to consider if you’re hiring a coach:

  • Ease of perspective: Just as it’s easier to see the flaws in your in-laws’ family, identifying the dysfunctions in an organization is significantly easier when you haven’t lived in that environment. Likewise, an external perspective can be just as helpful in identifying unseen strengths that can be further leveraged. When searching for a coach, look for someone who can provide a fresh perspective on your work.
  • Freedom: As external coaches, we have no “stake in the game” in terms of office politics or interpersonal relationships. This freedom allows us to voice the uncomfortable truths that are difficult for internal teammates to share and to focus solely on the development of a leader, not the advancement of any internal agenda. Beware of coaches who don’t share uncomfortable feedback with you.
  • Trust: Because leaders often report to a boss who must both coach AND evaluate them, it can be hard to develop a rapport of trust. As external consultants with no evaluative role, it’s easier for us to build a rapport of trust with leaders because their development is the only thing we have in mind. What’s most important when searching for a coach is making sure they are someone you can deeply trust.
  • Pattern recognition: Through our work with multiple leaders and organizations, it’s easy to develop an eye for patterns that repeat themselves time and again. In searching for a coach, look for someone who has worked in similar contexts or faced similar challenges as you. Their experience will allow them to spot patterns more easily.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to ours — taking on a new challenge that will require you to be a better leader — we encourage you to consider what’s riding on your success. In our experience, external coaches can be a tremendous resource in helping you to overcome some structural challenges to becoming a stronger leader and an extremely worthwhile investment, both for you and your organization.

Our closing question to you is this: what are you willing to do to become a better leader?

Exciting News

I have two pieces of news I’m thrilled to share:

"Unrealized Impact"First, today marks the public release of “Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” This report is the product of a collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders, including funders, leaders in the sector, and members of our Talent team. It’s also the first report from Promise54 — more on that in a moment! “Unrealized Impact” is an important paper that is the result an effort to gather data and promote progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the education sector, and it is authored by Xiomara Padamsee and Becky Crowe. I invite you to visit the study website to download your copy today!

Second, the tremendous anticipation for the “Unrealized Impact” study has prompted the launch of a new organization: Promise54. Xiomara Padamsee and Monisha Lozier —  partners and management team members who lead the Talent Services group at Bellwether —  were inspired by the report’s data to explore an expansion of their team’s work and impact. After months of extensive business planning, these two leaders, the rest of the Bellwether leadership team, and our Board of Directors determined that Promise54 should be established as a standalone organization. Its goal will be to aggressively pursue the opportunity to support education organizations in building and sustaining healthy, inclusive, and equitable environments where a diverse set of staff choose to work — and can thrive.

Promise54Promise54 will enable organizations to deliver on the promise of educational opportunity for all students, symbolized by the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Xiomara Padamsee will serve as the organization’s founding CEO and will lead in partnership with Monisha Lozier, one of Bellwether’s founding partners. In addition to new services, Promise54 will continue to offer the full range of services (executive search, talent structures and systems, coaching, etc.) that Bellwether’s Talent Services practices offers today with a deeper focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Bellwether is committed to supporting the launch of Promise54 because we share a common understanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion are bedrocks of strong organizational effectiveness. We know our sector is in urgent need of support on this vital work and believe the launch of a new organization will allow both Bellwether and Promise54 to hone our focus to better meet the needs of education organizations.

Helping seed and support crucial ideas for the field and helping those ideas grow is a core component of Bellwether’s mission, and launching a new organization is another way to grow our impact. I know I speak for all of my partners at Bellwether when I say we are thrilled to support the launch of Promise54.

This work is so important, and I could not imagine more capable, passionate leaders than Xiomara and Monisha to lead it.

And, as excited as we are about the impact that Promise54 will have, this news is also bittersweet. We love our colleagues on the Talent Services team and will miss how our day-to-day-interactions enrich Bellwether. It’s in this spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that we’re committed to the creation and continuation of two transformative organizations.

I hope you will join me in celebrating Unrealized Impact and Promise54!

Welcoming Our New Senior Advisers

It’s a great privilege to work with my colleagues every day. Individually and collectively, the people at Bellwether offer remarkable ideas, skills, and talents to help build the education field in a way that delivers superior solutions and results.

Our team is made up of experienced education leaders with decades of hands-on experience. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom, some as teachers, others as school operators, and some in both roles. This direct experience gives us an understanding of the work “on the ground” in schools, districts, and education organizations.

Members of our team have also served as founders, policymakers, government officials, nonprofit and district executives, executive search professionals, organizational development and coaching practitioners, and strategy consultants in top-tier management consulting firms such as Bain & Company, The Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, and Deloitte.

Regardless of where we’ve been, all of us at Bellwether are united by a common passion and purpose. Bellwether is a mission-driven nonprofit, and we do this work because we know that when education organizations set and meet lofty goals for students, more kids receive an education that puts them on track for a life of choices and self-determination. And today, I’m thrilled to announce that our team is expanding with the addition of two new leaders who share that commitment to ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education: senior advisers Gwen Baker and Bill Durbin.

Gwen BakerGwen Baker brings over 15 years of experience in education reform, specializing in the use of technology to advance ambitious goals. Before joining Bellwether, Gwen brings direct organizational leadership experience as the co-founder of CoreSpring, Inc., whose mission is to provide the field with access to high-quality formative assessment content and digital authoring tools. Gwen built the organization from an idea into a successful nonprofit, managing all aspects of product development, fundraising, business development and talent management. Prior to her work at CoreSpring, Gwen worked at NewSchools Venture Fund, New Visions for Public Schools, and Teachscape. She began her career consulting at Accenture.

Bill DurbinBill Durbin has worked in education over the past 18 years, focusing on school leader development and management, school performance management, and network growth strategy. At Bellwether, Bill will help school systems define their academic strategies and build the scalable systems to support strong academic performance. For the past two years, Bill served as the chief of schools at DSST Public Schools in Denver, Colorado. In this role, he was responsible for 12 schools and 5,000 students, leadership pipeline management, leader development programming, and the yearly school planning processes. Before DSST, Bill served as YES Prep Public Schools’ head of schools.

Gwen and Bill join Bellwether’s Strategic Advising team, which advises leaders and organizations on their most pressing strategic and operational issues. The Strategic Advising team’s work ranges from supporting entrepreneurs through business plan development, to partnering with established organizations on growth and performance improvement, to assessing new opportunities for impact as the field evolves. I look forward to our work around education technology and academic strategy deepening with Gwen and Bill’s leadership.

Please join me in welcoming our new teammates!

Who Are the Winners and Losers in Performance-Based Compensation?

The other day I left a working session with a client where we were tackling the question of whether and how their team members should be compensated based on performance. Inevitably, it was a challenging and values-laden conversation. Performance-based compensation is an approach where some or all monetary compensation is related to how employee performance is assessed relative to stated criteria. This model is intriguing enough that it comes up in virtually every compensation or performance management project I’ve ever been involved in.

What does research tell us so far about compensation approaches? Most teacher compensation systems, in an attempt to be fair, base rewards off of years of experience and educational attainment using a “step and lanes system. Yet, research shows that advanced degrees have little effect on student academic success except in the areas of math. And while teachers’ increasing experience in the early years leads to greater student achievement, there is limited evidence that teachers continue improving after five years on the job. With recent attempts at less-traditional approaches involving performance-based compensation, we have learned a great deal about how compensation can help retain our most effective teachers and therefore improve student achievement. Yet the “perfect” organizational compensation plan remains elusive.

Why is there still no playbook we can all follow around performance-based compensation? Because every compensation decision is about tradeoffs, which means there are winners and losers. I have yet to meet an administrator who wants to pay their educators less, yet there is a literal fixed pie that goes into school budgeting decisions, and educator compensation is by far the biggest piece of that limited pie. While we might want a world where we can keep everyone’s pay at least as good as it is now and provide incentives for our strongest teachers to stay in the classroom, that extra money has to come from somewhere (and hopefully a funding source that won’t be gone in a couple of years).

So let’s look deeper at some of the tradeoffs that apply to three different types of performance-based compensation:

1. Stick with a traditional “step and lanes” system, but teachers only move up a step if they meet a minimum specified level of performance

What is this? This is the simplest variation from the traditional experienced-based step schedule we often see in education, and therefore the one most likely implemented in larger districts or those just testing the waters. Truly low-performing teachers stop seeing automatic increases every year. In systems with early teacher tenure — where administrators may otherwise find themselves with low-performing, high-seniority teachers making far more than newer highly effective teachers — limiting increases to those meeting a specified performance level can mitigate limited resources going to low-performing teachers.

Who are the potential winners? The freed-up budget can then go to things that might benefit students, including classroom resources, aides, or other supports. If low-performers self-select out because of lower compensation, that frees up funds and teaching spots to bring in more effective teachers.

Who are the potential losers? This is a policy that sounds like a step in the right direction but might maintain the status quo (if all teachers are rated “effective” regardless of performance). High-performing teachers are potential losers as this policy does not incorporate higher pay for higher performance — it only helps to potentially weed out low performers. Continue reading

On Being in the Closet at St. Ignatius

Originally posted on Where the Boom Bands Play.

St. Ignatius CollegeI distinctly remember one gay teacher while I was a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago. Or, at least we all thought he was gay. He taught Spanish and was unapologetically flamboyant. I never had the pleasure of having him as a teacher, nor did I ever have a teacher who was openly gay until graduate school — I cried when she said it in passing on the first day of class. I don’t know if the Spanish teacher ever came out to students or ever said that he was gay. Frankly, it was none of our business. Even without the “official” confirmation, the students loved him. It was said that he was one of the best Spanish teachers in the department. In particular, the students loved that he was gay. However, students weren’t seemingly obsessed with the fact that he was gay because it was some kind of celebration of identity. They loved that he was gay because of the novelty of it.

I have vivid memories of male students making a sort-of-game out of approaching this teacher. He gave any student a hug when the student asked, and I remember watching male students dare each other to go up to him to get a hug. The male students would always approach timidly and reluctantly while a pack of friends stood back and giggled behind their hands. I wonder now as I wondered then if that teacher knew the spectacle those students were making out of his identity. I saw this exchange happen frequently during passing periods in the hallway. I have one particularly clear memory of a male student getting a hug and then promptly brushing off his clothes and skin as if he were wiping off the contact he had just had. He was a popular student, making his actions all the more “important” and the embrace all the more “egregious.” Everyone thought it was hilarious. The message that action sent has stuck with me over 10 years later. I can see that student’s face as he grimaced, wiping away this teacher’s homosexuality like it was contagious. I still know that student now. At one point that student was a teacher himself. I hope he gave hugs to kids that wanted them when he was a teacher. I hope no student ever wiped off his identity, his love.

I never got one of those hugs. I both thought it would be weird since I was never a student of this teacher (though he would hug anyone who asked, pupil of his or not). Moreover, I tried to avoid anything that might lead to the assumption that I myself was gay, since I was terrified of the truth that lie latent within me. I now wish I had gotten one. That hug could have been affirming for him and for me in a time when I felt like something was wrong with me; a time when I felt suppressed, confused, and invisible.

Continue reading