Twelve Ways to Use Entrepreneurial Thinking to Help Our Schools – Part 2

These days, education professionals find themselves struggling to navigate a brave new world of growing challenges and shrinking budgets. One business-world solution can help schools better deal with new challenges from their economic woes: try thinking more like an entrepreneur.

(7) Always Look At A New Idea Through Your Constituents’ Eyes.

In our world of almost instant computer-driven communications, blogs, chat rooms, Tweets, Facebook pages, and apps galore, news travels fast. The teachers, students, and parents will use these tools to provide their instant feedback about decisions being made for their schools. Administrators have to use these same tools to communicate with all constituents, and most importantly, always get the message out so they hear it from you first in a voice that gets your message out your way.

When you lead like a benevolent dictator, listening is imperative. Remember, many parents are going through tough times right now too. If they think you aren’t listening to their concerns over budget cuts or that you are allowing money to be spent unwisely, they’re going to tell you, make you listen, and expect you to respond thoughtfully by providing your perspective.


Also, clearly communicate the value of and the reasons behind what you’re doing. A cost-saving initiative might make perfect sense to you because you are close to the problem, but parents or other constituents might not be able to see the benefits. Benevolent dictators don’t pass down decisions and leave it at that. They take care to explain the “why” behind the decisions. Do this and you’ll get more buy-in and can be exponentially more successful. The more you can look at things from the constituents’ perspective, and the more information you can give them, the better.


(8) The Journey Better Be As Rewarding As The Destination

Many a great entrepreneur has been derailed by burnout. It’s a malady that can be caused by many factors, but which ultimately boils down to this—too much focus on the final outcome and an inability to enjoy the day-to-day elements of the job. In short, to achieve sustained success and to stay motivated, administrators have to enjoy the journey as much as they enjoy reaching the destination.


Getting the job done is where the action is and also the satisfaction. This is just as true in entrepreneurship as it is in education. Both require a great amount of passion in order to be successful.


(9) Understand The Business of “We”

When it comes to leadership, pronouns make more of a difference than most understand. In fact, the proper use of pronouns can make a good leader great, and can mean the difference in someone being the type of leader people want to follow or the type they only put up with. When an administrator speaks of his or her school’s or district’s objectives in terms of “we” instead of “me,” it shows that everyone is in it together, and that the organizations sink or swim based on everyone’s efforts. It also gives credit where credit is due—to the team.


My rule at OfficeMax was that if something bad happened, “I” did it—as far as the outside world was concerned. After all, I was the CEO and chairman, so it was only right for me to shoulder the blame in public. But when something good occurred and we achieved or exceeded goals, I would always say “we” did it. Following this rule helps to build a fully committed team. Skillful use of “we” and “ours” instead of “me” and “mine” helps avoid internal bickering and encourages your team to come together.


(10) Identify Your Under-The-Radar Superstar

Now’s the time to look for fresh ideas on how to solve problems, and that might mean looking to your team’s bench for untapped talent. Open the floor to those on your team who might bring new ideas forward, who aren’t stuck in the past and are able to adapt to this new normal in education.


Because of the nature of seniority in education, newer teachers or other educators might get overlooked. Their ideas might get less respect than those coming from a teacher with tenure. In business, on the other hand, the best companies are those that tap their newest employees for their ideas on what can be done better. Educators need to think more like businesspeople in this regard. They need to remember that, more often than not, paradigm shifts are sparked by people who aren’t experts in the field.


Now is the time to build a team of leaders, thinkers, doers, and followers who will work well together. Staff meetings must be conducted in a way that makes people feel comfortable providing their input. Teachers and staff are the ones closest to the thorny issues, so they’re the best people to help solve them. Watch how each person thinks and performs under these adverse circumstances and see who comes out on top. The results might be surprising!


(11) When You Have A Problem, Ask The People In The Trenches First

Being a leader means facilitating decisions—it doesn’t mean the head person always must be the driving force behind every single decision or idea. The best way to turn negatives into positives is to first understand the problems and then discover alternatives to prevent them in the future—and that means establishing a give and take with the people in the trenches.


Challenge teachers by constantly asking them if there’s a “better way.” A “better way” might mean creating a school supplies donation program asking parents and local businesses to donate supplies or money for supplies in needy districts, or asking volunteers such as local musicians or athletes to donate their time to make up for eliminated music or physical education programs. Positively challenging teachers and staff rather than ignoring them drives motivation and spurs innovation.


(12) Know How To Put Lightning Back In The Bottle Again and Again

It is absolutely possible to be a repeat entrepreneurial success. Most successful second-act players have honed their instincts and skills and created a series of methodical steps that they follow. They understand how to get from A to Z while minimizing pain and wasted motions and maximizing available capital. And they’re able to do it over and over again.


With a strong team, administrators can still create repeated success in education despite cut budgets. The economic crisis in education is not a short-term problem. In fact, things will likely get worse before they get better. One good idea is not going to be enough to pull you through these tough times. Success will be built on a series of solid ideas and consistent execution.


While this is a time of great challenges, remember that overcoming great challenges means creating great results. Now is an opportunity to find a way to do things not just differently but better.

Image: David Castillo Dominici /

This is the second of a two-part guest post courtesy of Michael Feuer.  He is author of The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-118-00391-6, $24.95, He cofounded OfficeMax in 1988 starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, a partner, and a small group of investors, and he is also the CEO of Max-Ventures, a venture capital and retail consulting firm, and CEO of Max-Wellness, a comprehensive health and wellness retail chain. 


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