The book Future-Focused Leadership by G. Marx (2006) covers a vast swath of education leadership principles, which if executed correctly, provide a strong foundation for leadership success. Marx discusses at length the qualities of a great leader including inspiring trust, creating inclusiveness, perpetuating curiosity, and developing a drive for constant self-improvement (2006). While many of these concepts deserve attention, the most important focus from the book is on the need for leaders to understand the environment in which he or she operates in order to make the most effective decisions and uncover opportunity as well as inspiring teachers at different experience levels to change (Marx, 2006).
Marx (2006) supports the idea that the leader is a generalist, with great knowledge in a specific area and the ability to learn just about anything else (pg. 15). In addition, Marx espouses an environment of empowerment and that leadership can come from any member of the organization (2006, p. 16). This is an important idea because leadership is not dependent on a title but instead, encompasses the actions that anyone can take to support the forward movement of the goal. In Marx’s (2006) view, an effective leader may have a specific role to play but remains aware of the bigger picture (pg. 12). Great leaders “connect the dots and seek common ground” (Marx, 2006, pg. 26) but remain aware of the context surrounding the decision.
Another element of understanding the decision-making environment includes solving or dismissing pre-existing issues (Marx, 2006, pg. 6). This concept is very similar to the ideas in the book Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers by R. Kriegel and D. Brandt (1996). In Sacred Cows, the reader is encouraged to look at the pillars of the business and tackle the ideas from a fresh perspective. Kriegel suggests taking reports, measurement tools, processes and other long standing, entrenched tools of the business and challenge the effectiveness of these tools (Kriegel, 1996). By harnessing the power of creative thinking and dismissing previously held ‘sacred cows,’ leaders have the opportunity to review old issues and solve those challenges in new ways.
Another tenant of Future-Focused Leadership is the idea that even “those who have been rigid…can find the process of continually shaping a future, exciting, interesting and downright fulfilling” (Marx, 2006, pg. 6). Marx is saying that even experienced educators who may be completely satisfied with the status quo can be revitalized into enthusiastic agents of change. Of all of Marx’s suppositions presented, this is the most challenging to understand and enact. Like any object in motion, most humans tend to stay on a path until something requires them to change. Usually, this change occurs only because it is more uncomfortable to not change. If that is true, then it is going to require a great deal of energy, commitment and passion on the part of leaders in the educational system to inspire this class of educators. The next question is whether expending that energy on the entrenched establishment is worth the time when those resources are better utilized engaging the minds of teachers who are more open to change. The challenge with that idea is that educational leaders may not have an option. With unions protecting teachers despite their actual ability and engagement in the classroom, trying to inspire an educator who is apathetic to the process and looking towards collecting a pension may be the only choice. With this question, those leading the profession will have an enormous challenge ahead of them that Marx fails to answer.
Overall, Marx does an excellent job covering the foundation for strong leadership in education or any industry. His focus on being aware of the environment in which decisions are made helps to provide context and quality to the decision-making process. By challenging the ‘sacred cows’ of education, Marx also gives leaders new guidance on how to solve problems that have plagued the education system. The only unanswered question is how to inspire educators who may have lost interest in the inspiration of others. While that is a question that requires further discussion, Future-Focused Leaders is a well-written book and a foundation for future leaders in any industry.
Kriegel, R. J., & Brandt, D. (1996). Sacred cows make the best burgers: Paradigm-busting strategies for developing change-ready people and organizations. New York: Warner Books.
Marx, K. (2006). Future-focused leadership: preparing schools, students, and communities for tomorrow’s realities. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.