Earlier this month, Principal Josè Posada gathered members of his faculty and gave them an unusual talk.
“What does it cost your business when you consistently break promises and disappoint?” he asked, immediately providing an answer: “Most likely, it’s not only your potential growth but possibly your existence.”
He added: “Each day that your company turns on the lights and opens the front door, you need to be prepared to keep your promises.”
Why would an LAUSD principal be talking like the director of a business school?
The answer is that Posada was reading from a book titled “The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, And Outwit the Competition.”
The 2011 book, written by OfficeMax cofounder Michael Feuer and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., landed on Posada’s reading list because it’s a fascinating treatise on leadership, a subject on which the principal wrote his doctoral thesis at USC.
The Business of Education
“When I first looked at the [book’s] cover, right away I knew that it was a business book,” said Posada, adding: “I have always been kind of skeptical about business principles in my area of expertise, which is public education.”
But, said Posada, he was pleasantly surprised when he found that he could read the book from the point of view of an educator.
The book is divided into 40 chapters, which fall under one of four “phases” in the life of a business: Start-Up; Build Out; Constant Reinvention; Payday. Each chapter is called a “Lesson.” Posada refers to the chapters as “Assets” because, as he put it, “they’re something I’m taking from.”
For Posada, the book’s most valuable asset is Lesson #31, which he read to his faculty members and which begins with these words: “Every good company must be an advocate for its customers.”
Students as Customers
Substitute the word “company” for “school”—and “customers” for “students”—and the message seems tailor-made for his profession, said Posada, adding: “That’s what we’re trying to instill in our teachers—make them advocates for kids, who are our future.”
The one part of Benevolent Dictator that caught Posada’s attention right away—and kept him reading—was a “confession” by the author that he was born with a “severe birth defect.”
It turns out that Feuer, who is also the cofounder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail chain that launched in 2010, is referring not to some congenital disease but to poverty.
“I had always seen poverty as a handicap,” said Posada. To see one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs describe the condition in such a striking and extreme manner reinforced the reality that “for a lot of kids we work with, poverty is a trap” frequently difficult to escape, added Posada.
Students as Innovators
But just as a failing company can reinvent itself and be successful, impoverished students can transcend their backgrounds. Posada believes that the challenge for teachers, therefore, is to ask, “How can we get our kids to be innovators” rather than passive recipients of learning?
Part of the answer lies in Feuer’s belief that “to change the odds, we have to change the positioning of the company.” For Posada, that means teachers must ask themselves “why kids need to learn something—we must constantly look at what we can provide for students at the next level.”
But, cautions Posada, summing up Lesson #17 from The Benevolent Dictator: “Good intentions will get you only so far.” Schools are full of teachers who “teach a lesson with the idea that it will be the best one.”
It’s much more helpful to “look at results” instead. “To have an intention doesn’t mean anything,” explained Posada. “You’ve got to do it.”
This is the first of a planned series of stories about books that residents and stakeholders in Eagle Rock have been reading for inspiration or useful information. If you’re reading something interesting or life-changing and would like to share your experience with other readers, let us know. Send an email to: email@example.com