- Some educational leaders lead like the IRS—asking for things they don’t really want or need.
- “IRS” educational leaders do not truly collaborate and already have their minds made up.
- This jeopardizes their relationships with staff and limits growth.
The IRS. Here in America, it is hard to find three letters that stir up more feelings of dissent and displeasure. Now before an audit is ordered on me, let me be clear: I pay my taxes. I see it as a civic responsibility that can provide value to the common good. That isn’t my issue. My struggle isn’t with the fact that our government functions because of the Internal Revenue Service. Or that 30% of my income disappears before I even see it. Granted, I am not a fan of paying taxes, but I get it. It has to happen. My issue is with what happens every year on April 15th. The process behind the protocol.
You see, here in the states, every year, income earners are required to file their taxes. This means we are expected to look at our income from the year before. Then, we look at the current tax laws, calculate how much money we owe, or how much we overpaid to the government. After that, we send in our itemized report to the IRS. Here is where things get confusing. The IRS, in their great and powerful wisdom, already knows how much money I owe or how much money is due to me. Once they receive my tax forms, the IRS compares my calculations to theirs. Then, they either give me a thumbs up or thumbs down via certified mail letting me know where my mistakes were and how much interest I now owe them.
The “IRS” Educational Leader
As a leader and educational consultant, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with amazing administrators, principals, superintendents, and school boards all around the world. I have seen those who are supportive, collaborative, and empathetic. And unfortunately, at times, have run into those who lead like the IRS.As you spend your time in the coming months seeking solutions to problems, developing relationships, and changing the world, remember, you are not the IRS. You are a destiny shaper and a life changer. Click To Tweet
IRS leaders are those who put up a facade of collaboration. They often ask their staff members to work in teams, to solve problems, to develop proposals that are then brought forth for approval. IRS leaders, however, often already know the answers and outcomes they are looking for. IRS leaders ask others to spend their time digging through details and looking for solutions. Then they sit back and presume a posture like Caesar waiting to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Those who are rejected, not only feel rejected, but often feel pushed aside and devalued. Those who get the thumbs down feel as though they have wasted their time, that their voice lacks value, and trust capital is eroded. IRS leaders already know what they want, where they are going, and what solutions they will accept; yet they pretend to support collaboration, innovation, and autonomy.
What might this look like in a practical sense?
Perhaps a school leadership team is brought together to design the next Professional Learning Day. The day is designed, agendas are created, and the team is excited. Then, the IRS Leader steps in, rejects the plan, hires his own speaker, and creates his own agenda.
Perhaps an IEP team comes together, analyzes student data, develops a support plan, and submits the plan to the IRS Leader. The IRS Leader refuses to sign the plan claiming they have “a better plan,” ignoring the consensus of the team.[scroll down to keep reading]
Perhaps a grade level of teachers is pulled together to design a master schedule that supports intensive literacy and math instruction. The teachers have access to student data, teacher strengths, and weaknesses, as well as historical struggles. The team designs a schedule integrating subject matter throughout the day and allowing for teacher collaboration and support. The IRS Leader gains access to the schedule, scraps the plan, and instead decides to create a schedule with designated 90-minute blocks of instruction and no time for collaboration.
Leaders, let me remind you, you can have growth or you can have control. You cannot have both.
As you spend your time in the coming months seeking solutions to problems, developing relationships, and changing the world, remember, you are not the IRS. You are a destiny shaper and a life changer. Lean on those you serve, and empower them to grow in ways that you never knew were possible.
A focused leader says “no” to good ideas all the time. An empowering leader says “yes” so that the best ideas can be discovered. The IRS leader says “maybe” so that others feel like they are in control until a decision has to be made. Which are you?
About Dave Schmittou
In education for more than 2 decades, Dave has earned a reputation for being a disruptor of the status quo, an innovator, and a change agent. Having served as a classroom teacher, school-based administrator, central office director, and now professor of Educational Leadership, he often uses real-life stories and examples of his own life and career to describe why and how we need to confront “the way we have always done it.”
He has written multiple books, including “It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime,” “Bold Humility,”, and “Making Assessment Work for Educators Who Hate Data but Love Kids.” He speaks, consults, and partners with districts around the country and loves to keep learning and growing.