Written by Mary Hookham, Janesville, WI
September 2016: Leadership Wisconsin Group XVII’s seminar centering around the study of education issues in Milwaukee proved to be a useful tool for all Fellows in not only learning the basics of public and private educational institutions around the state but also in fine-tuning their initial leadership skills both individually and as a group.
After listening to several speakers involved in the education field and touring schools in downtown Milwaukee, Fellows learned the significant impacts money, power and politics have on education. Fellows also gained firsthand experience with trust as officials from various schools allowed them inside for tours and question-and-answer sessions that helped create relationships and future connections.
Relationship-building is a very necessary tool in the field of leadership. Without a relationship, change will not occur, but with a properly-maintained relationship, all parties will feel more satisfied as they attempt change in any industry. In a strong relationship, more details surface because of the cohesiveness of all parties. Both leaders and followers involved in creating change can speak openly and honestly and ask questions without being judged, or being regarded as rude or confrontational. Change will occur simply by working together.
“You can’t agitate for change without a relationship,” said Dale Kooyenga, state representative.
Good leaders are transparent and reliable while also having the power to inspire others if followers feel engaged, thereby making group cohesiveness absolutely essential. As a leader, holding people accountable for their decisions and actions is also crucial in order to facilitate change.
Tom Mosgaller, community organizer with Industrial Areas Foundation, encouraged Fellows to always organize themselves because when people organize, they define their own problems, find their own solutions and take their own action. His cycle of organizing begins with one-on-one interactions followed by work within small groups, research actions, larger actions and then evaluations. He suggested Fellows assess themselves twice each year by asking the question, ‘Is there alignment between me, my actions and what I say I care about?’
Mosgaller explained his leadership requirements: connection to and knowledge about the issue; imagination surrounding the issue; cold anger about the issue that involves angst, genuine grieving, a profound passion and dedication and any other deep feelings that motivate leaders in healthy ways and humor.
Other leadership lessons Fellows learned from Leadership Wisconsin officials, Dr. Demond Means, superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District and Dr. Robert Kobylski, superintendent of Nicolet School District include the necessity of asking powerful questions that are short, open-ended, broad and impactful; the requirement for each Fellow to own his/her responsibilities as leaders and continue to push through when advocating for change on an issue despite reservations from followers; the understanding that believing in something and putting a plan into action are two very different things in leadership; and the need to encourage people to work together without partisanship.
Dr. Means encouraged the Fellows to insist their voices be heard, not stand for excuses from people and to always be honest with people. Change will not occur without a well-balanced, thoughtful plan of action.
“Bad schools affect the future of our workforce,” he said.
Dr. Kobylski emphasized the importance of having the courage to do the right thing no matter what anybody else is doing or not doing. Leaders will never be able to convince every person of their viewpoint, but persistence combined with the right attitude will eventually prevail in changing the status quo. He encouraged Fellows to push through any obstacles using thoughtful and constructive methods, continue to have and express ambitions and goals, and advocate for each of our passions.