Thomas Friedman recently wrote a piece in the New York Times on “How to Get a Job at Google.” As I read the comments of Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google, the more I found that Google is looking for many of the same attributes in its employees that we are looking for in West Vancouver, when we hire principals and vice-principals.
One of the more common questions I am asked is just what does someone need to do to secure a school principal or vice-principal job? The truth is there is no one thing or an exact path. In West Vancouver we do receive dozens of applications for any job opening, and many of these candidates have all the required boxes checked for what is needed in these leadership positions. Many who apply believe there is a certain ‘formula’ in getting a job as a principal or vice-principal, but I haven’t seen it yet. I have heard, ”you need to be on district committees,” or ”you need to have experience in multiple schools; to have experience in different subjects and at different grades.” And the list goes on. In the end, our view is similar to that of Bock, “Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many non-traditional ways today.”
Bock identifies five key attributes in hiring:
- learning ability — the ability to pull together disparate bits of information and process on the fly
- leadership — when faced with a problem at the appropriate time you step in and lead
- ownership — the feeling of responsibility
- humility — the ability to step back and embrace the better ideas of others
- expertise — it is important, but less important than the other four
The list really speaks to the skills we are looking for with our school administrators and the kind of attributes we are seeking in our leaders. We want them to be able to be smart and make decisions on the fly; to lead — not only from the front, but to feel like their school is theirs; to step back and allow others to share in the success and, finally, to have the expertise in many of the learning and management areas that are regular parts of the job. Friedman is right, “In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavour, it also cares about a lot of soft skills – leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn.” This is why we almost always ask candidates about who is in their network and how they learn with their colleagues. We want our buildings to be about learning, and that includes our leaders being model learners themselves.
And, really, this entire list and conversation extends to the qualities we are looking for in our teachers. We want our teachers to be innovators, leaders, and owners of their classroom. We do want them to be humble and, yes, we want expertise — but I will take someone with the other four qualities and lacking in expertise rather than the reverse, any day. Good grades don’t hurt, but we are looking for more than that with our teachers and educational leaders. I agree with the notion Friedman shares, “Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about – and pays off on – what you can do with what you know.”
Of course, the teaching, principal and vice-principal jobs in West Vancouver involves different perks than Google (sorry about that) but it looks like we are looking for many of the same qualities.