I still smile when I remember the first administrative position I ever had and the interview that got me the position. Archie Lillico, a great friend, mentor, leader, and all around human being, was hiring for a new assistant principal and I surprisingly received an opportunity for an interview. Not knowing Archie at the time, I remember going into the interview and it quickly turned into an argument, where he started challenging me and then I started challenging back. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before and I chalked it up to a learning experience and really never thought twice about actually getting the job.
A few days later, in what I thought was a simple courtesy, Archie called me and offered me the job. My jaw hit the floor at the surprise and I remember wondering if this would work. We obviously had disagreed on things already, and that was only the interview! I accepted the position, and I remember having one of my first conversations with Archie soon after. What he had told me is that as the principal, he was not looking for someone to agree with him, but for someone to be able to challenge his thinking yet support him at the same time. His focus was on helping kids, not solely on being right. You could often hear us arguing in the office, and then walk out soon after with smiles on our face. I understood what he expected from me, and he understood that I thought different. In fact, that was probably one of the reasons that he hired me and I still am close with him to this day.
What he had taught me early on in my career is that hiring your clone might be good for your ego, but not necessarily for your organization. Encouraging divergent thinking in your organization is not usually about going from one extreme to another, but mostly about finding a better middle. This lesson was something that I carried on when I hired my own assistant principal later, knowing that she had different viewpoints than I did, while also being willing to challenge me. This is commonplace in Parkland School Division and part of the reason I have grown so much in the district. If we are truly about being successful as individuals, we need people to both support and challenge us. It is important to know that people are in your corner, but being in your corner doesn’t mean always agreeing with you.
If we want innovative organizations, we can’t just challenge the “status quo”, but we need to be able to challenge one another.