I have found enormous value in engaging staff members in chapter reviews of books on leadership and management theory. I did this when I was a district superintendent, and began this practice when I joined NJSBA in 2012. It is an exercise that provides motivation, direction and, quite often, good ideas.

One book the NJSBA executive staff and I tackled back in 2013 was Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by 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 Demarest (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.

I gave our executive staff the task of drawing up a statement on the “WHY” of NJSBA. The resulting statement:

The WHY of NJSBA: Promote the achievement of all students through effective local governance of public education.

Effective public education governance requires a full understanding of, and commitment to, student achievement. Recognizing the importance of every child, NJSBA provides training, advocacy, resources, and guidance to empower boards of education to advance student achievement.

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 the children.

This issue of School Leader features a special section on student achievement, which goes to the heart of the “Why of NJSBA.”

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.

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.”

Whether our goal at NJSBA is finding ways to close the achievement gap, expanding board leadership training, or helping to launch the Future Ready Schools-NJ initiative. We will never lose sight of the 1.4 million reasons WHY we exist.

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