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Teach for America’s Lesson Plan for Leadership

Teach for America looks for men and women who show “evidence” of such things as: achievement, perseverance, critical thinking, organizational skills, respect for others, interpersonal skills, and a “desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our vision.”

Attention recruiters: If you are looking for men and women
to fill senior leadership positions in a decade or two, look no further than
Teach for America.

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This thought crossed my mind as my wife who was writing a
recommendation for an applicant read me what the federally sponsored teacher
development program desired in its candidates.

There are no slackers in Teach for America. It looks for men
and women
who show “evidence” of such things as: achievement, perseverance,
critical thinking, organizational skills, respect for others, interpersonal
skills and a “desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our vision.”

Of all of these desired attributes two command our attention,
not only for teachers but also for the leaders of today and tomorrow. They are
perseverance and critical thinking.

Perseverance is
an attribute that all good leaders manifest. Of late it is something that
lately has been given short shrift. Perhaps it is because for so long we
coddled ourselves in the spirit of entitlement that has passed burdens of the
day into the future. Working hard against the odds seems contrary to a celebrity
culture that has lulled us into thinking all will be well. The crash of 2008
and the subsequent destruction of wealth and eight million jobs have taught us
otherwise.

Leaders today need to be tough and resilient. They need to
buck the odds in order to succeed. And that means there are few, if any
overnight successes. So much of work today is rough sledding and it takes men
and women of strong hear to persevere.

Critical thinking
is the aspect of leadership that will point us in the right direction. The
beauty of the American management model is that it is action oriented; we know
how to get things done. The downside is we may not take the time to think about
where we are headed as well as the choices we will make along the way.

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If we are to navigate the challenges of the day we will need
sharp thinkers who are comfortable with ambiguity. More and more uncertainty
rules, a leader who can reason, weigh alternatives, and insist on deliberation
and alternatives will be the one who helps the organization survive.

Augmenting these two attributes are the humanistic values
Teach for America seeks: diversity, dignity and respect. Such may be in short
supply in some sectors but when you look at executives that employees trust you
will find them. Good leaders treat others as they wish to be treated and
employees as contributors.

While I would certainly advise human resource directors to
look for men and whom who have taught in the Teach for America program, I would
hope that that such committed and accomplished individuals remain in the
teaching profession. As the program states “successful teachers are also
accomplished leaders.” Our nation will need such leaders if we are to educate
our children to assume levels of responsibility that will be required to meet
and surmount the challenges of the 21st century.

John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is
12
Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead
. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website,
www.johnbaldoni.com

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