The Last Word January 2013

By C. Ed Masey

In my first few months as president of NSBA’s Board of Directors, the board has dealt with two very important issues: first, choosing Thomas J. Gentzel as successor to Anne L. Bryant, who served the organization remarkably well for 16 years. Secondly, we are creating a strategic plan to raise the organization’s advocacy on behalf of school boards to new levels.

As I reflect upon the work of the two committees that have guided these monumental tasks, I am reminded of the book, Leadership on the Line, by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky. One chapter deals with the concept of role versus self. As I ponder the meaning, I have realized that we as school board members must be focused on our roles and what those mean to NSBA.

Many of you know that I am an avid NASCAR fan. So how can I bring NASCAR into a discussion about public education? Let me enlighten you: In NASCAR, races are won and lost by thousandths of seconds. Many may think the sport is all about the drivers, who are the most flamboyant and well-known personalities in the NASCAR universe. What many don't know is that the success or failure of many NASCAR teams is won or lost on pit road.

Pit road is where the real teamwork is exhibited. Every pit member has a very specific task, and they do their job efficiently, effectively, and very quickly. In a typical pit stop, a crew of seven members changes four tires, fills the car with 22 gallons of gas, cleans the windshield, and adjusts the shocks and sway bar in only a few seconds. A good pit stop lasts anywhere between 12 and 15 seconds depending on the track and the adjustments that must be made. (I think of this every time I have to drop off my car for several hours just to get an oil change.)

The reason the crews can accomplish their work in such a swift and effective manner is because each and every team member has a specific role and performs it to near perfection. One member carries the tires while another changes them. One crew member fills the car with fuel while simultaneously turning a wrench to make slight adjustments. Another tears off the layover windshield so the driver can have a clean veil. All of this work is overseen by a crew chief who has meticulously prepared his team for the perfect pit stop.

If team members are successful, their driver will compete for a win in which they will share the fruits of victory. If a team is not successful, members will be subject to evaluation, adjustments, and countless hours of practice to make sure that the next stop will be successful. Because winning is the name of the game, mediocrity is not tolerated.

Suppose we as board members adopted this pit crew mentality. If we did, we would likely be more effective and the results would show the continuous improvement for which we all strive. Instead, we often find ourselves multitasking and oftentimes stepping on the toes of those with whom we most closely work or associate. As a result, we are often relegated to doing the same thing again and again with no change in the outcome.

We can learn a lot from the pit crew analogy. First, figure out your gift and focus on it. Second, perform your role exceptionally well. Third, resist the temptation to interfere in things that are not in your area of control. Lastly, consistently and constantly strive for continuous improvement. The term TEAM is often used as an acronym for “Together Everyone Achieves More.” With pit crews this is true, and it is also a good analogy for those engaged in leadership. Together as board members we can achieve more if we recognize and stick with our role and strengths.

C. Ed Massey (cemassey@nkylawyers.com) is the 2012-13 president of NSBA and a member of Kentucky’s Boone County Board of Education.