There Must Be Leaders On All Levels

An older friend, now retired, was superintendent of a school system for about 20 years. Earlier in his career he held positions as a school supervisor, a principal, a teacher, and a coach. The two of us were recently discussing the importance of key leaders within any organization. Since his background is in education, the conversation turned to school principals. As superintendent, he always believed principals were very strategic and he placed a special emphasis on recruiting, providing continued training, and retaining the cream of the crop. Apparently it paid dividends since the system of which he was superintendent grew to be among the elite in his state. During our conversation he shared the following story:

One day while still superintendent, he was speaking to all the teachers in the system and he spotlighted the importance of strong principals, emphasizing they were a vital necessity in order to keep the schools in the top tier. Following his presentation, a teacher told my friend that he really enjoyed and appreciated his talk, but he disagreed on one issue. Then he went on to say that he felt if a school has good teachers, “the school will run itself.”

A few years after the superintendent retired he was in a restaurant eating lunch and this same teacher came to his table, said hello, and proceeded to say, “I want to apologize. I was wrong.” Then he referred to the comments made that day following the address to the teachers. He also said he missed the long-time principal who was in his school and had moved to another system. Then he remarked, “I just didn’t realize how sorry a school can be when the right leadership is not in place.”

Good story. True story. True stuff – period. Without strong leadership, even the most well equipped sailing vessel will soon hit the rocks, run into an iceberg, or encounter some other disaster. That is not to say that capable principals can accomplish great things without capable teachers. They cannot – just as a captain cannot sail the seas without a fit ship. But it does say that every group needs a strong leader and, in the words of the late President Harry Truman, someone to say, “The buck stops here.”

The former superintendent also emphasized the importance of having principals in the system who shared his philosophy. That is so vital in any organization. From the top down, leaders along the way create atmospheres in which team members are motivated toward the same objectives, goals, and mission. Leaders on all levels establish clear expectations for the team and individual team members. Leaders are responsible for everyone in the organization accepting personal and group responsibility.

Think about a good football team. The head coach must be strong and, in turn, will receive due recognition. But take away his good defensive and offensive coordinators. Take away the good position coaches under the coordinators. The head coach may still have the same players, but he won’t have the same team. Without good leaders on all levels of the organization the team will not accomplish as much.

When a CEO has capable department heads, supervisors, and other leaders in place, his or her job is much easier and much less stressful. The CEO can then concentrate on what he or she should be doing and will not have to “pick up” after weak leaders. If capable leaders are not in place along the way, everyone in the organization suffers. All leaders on every level have the responsibility to get the right people under them. If the employees, teachers, or athletes are not the right people to accomplish what the organization wants to accomplish, they need to be replaced with people who will get the jobs done.

In a successful organization, everyone answers to everyone else. Everyone does his or her job. Leaders at the top produce leaders on all levels. It is a positive thing that is contagious. In such an organization, a great head coach eventually produces a great water boy.

Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and


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