Always the educator, I have found enormous value in engaging my administrative and executive staffs in chapter reviews of books on leadership and management theory. I’ve done this as a district superintendent and, last year, began the “tradition” at NJSBA with our study of Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. It’s an exercise that provides motivation, direction and, quite often, good ideas.

Since September, the NJSBA executive staff and I have been engaged in a periodic chapter review of another impressive work, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by a motivating author, Simon Sinek, an expert on leadership and management theory. I might add that Sinek is a product of New Jersey’s public schools. He graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School in Bergen County in 1991.

The “why” in the book’s title refers to an organization’s purpose and mission—that is, its reason for being. “All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year,” he writes in the book’s concluding chapter.

For NJSBA, our “why” is crystal clear: We exist to advance student achievement through effective local school board leadership. Yes, it must always be about children!

According to Sinek, organizations that stress the “what” and the “how”—products and services—while forgetting the “why” behind their existence are doomed to stagnation. In contrast, he provides the following scenario of companies that start with “why” and never vary from their core purpose or belief:

“Our goal is to find customers who believe what we believe and work together so that we can all succeed. We’re looking for people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in pursuit of the same goal.”

Certainly, that describes the relationship we all want between NJSBA and its members. This past week, a community newspaper in Morris County posted an article that indicates NJSBA and its members are moving in that direction.

The article addressed a significant element of “what” NJSBA provides its members—that is, our annual Workshop, the major training event for local school district leaders. Here are some of the statements that appeared in the article in the Citizen:

“Board members were able to learn about the core values that are held by highly effective boards that actively strive to better the educational experience of all students within their districts.”

“The opportunity to connect with the New Jersey School Boards [Association] and other school districts on a variety of topics offered valuable insight and information for school board members.”

“The three-day experience offered board members the opportunity to interact with and learn from educators and educational leaders, non-profit organizations, business, and members of the larger educational community from across the state.”

These comments did not come from marketing or public relations materials; they were provided by attendees themselves—the president and members of the Mountain Lakes Board of Education.

It’s true that, year after year, NJSBA achieves most of the goals set for Workshop, whether they involve attendance, programming or special features.

As Sinek writes, “…achievement is something you reach or attain, like a goal. Success, in contrast, is a feeling or a state of being. …achievement comes when you pursue and attain WHAT you want. Success comes when you are in clear pursuit of WHY you want it.”

In 2014, whether our goal at NJSBA is finding ways to close the achievement gap, expanding board leadership training, or launching the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program, we will never lose sight of the 1.4 million reasons WHY we exist.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org.

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