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Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership at the Washington Post.

Adrian Fenty to advise Rosetta Stone: Good news for education innovation?


A month after Adrian Fenty's last day in office, language-learning company Rosetta Stone announced on Thursday that the former D.C. mayor would join their Arlington-based organization as an outsider adviser. This follows on the heels of a number of other new posts Fenty will assume now that his term has ended, including becoming a visiting professor at Oberlin and an outside adviser and counsel to a firm based in Philadelphia.

One of Fenty's most high-profile, and controversial, initiatives as mayor was tackling the District's education reform. And in Rosetta Stone's press release announcing the new appointment, CEO Tom Adams is quoted as saying, "We are confident that Adrian Fenty will help Rosetta Stone drive innovation in the classroom by empowering schools to discover new ways to use technology."

Here at On Leadership, we recently sat down with the former mayor to talk about some of the unpopular decisions he made during his term--such as appointing Michelle Rhee as chancellor of the public schools system--and whether he regretted that such decisions may have played a role in costing him reelection.

Watch our video conversation with Adrian Fenty, and then tell us: What do you think of the news that the latest in his line of gigs will be to advise Rosetta Stone?

By Lillian Cunningham

 |  February 3, 2011; 2:13 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership , Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Kissing Babies and Shaking Hands. I watched the embedded video and wish I were motivated to recommend its viewing to junior leaders under my command. Seek advice, hire experts and let them work, identify needs and make decisions based on those needs even if they are unpopular, were all mentioned as things Mr. Fenty did while in office. All are admirable traits that in practice, make an effective leader. But instead of feeling motivated by this detailed description, what I felt was disappointment. Saying that making unpopular decisions was the reason he lost is a conclusion that simply is not grounded in reality. The election was lost because he lost touch with his constituents. Prior to the election, many articles, polls, and interviews justifiably identified this disconnect as being a major problem in terms of re-election. Metaphorically, he stopped “kissing babies and shaking hands” and the result was detrimental.
However, my disappointment doesn’t lie with Mr. Fenty’s inability or unwillingness to connect with his constituents. It lies in this. When he lost his job, citizens of D.C. lost a young, energetic politician and a probable role model for those very kids who are caught up in the school system he so rightly identified as flawed. No longer does D.C. have that leader who was not afraid to buck the system or to identify and tackle hard problems. What we do have are kids who won’t benefit from his innovative and dead-on views on how to fix the broken school system. What we have is a missed opportunity for kids to look at him and say, “I can also accomplish great things. I can make a difference”. Herein lies the true tragedy and what drives my disappointment.
As an Army Officer, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend many training sessions on how to be an effective leader. I’m grateful for those opportunities and the chance to lead and practice the things I’ve learned. I’ll be the first to say that I still have much to learn about leadership as I, hopefully, rise in rank and responsibility. However, the most basic principle of effective leadership - I feel I’ve already learned. That principle is simply this: “It doesn’t matter how noble or relevant your ideas are, you can’t be an effective leader if you no longer hold a position to lead.” If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone watching this video looking for inspiration and direction on leadership, it would be to never forget this basic principal. If not losing a position of leadership, and subsequently losing the ability to make a difference, requires “kissing babies and shaking hands”, I pray that the choice will simply be to pucker up, smile, or extend a friendly hand.

MAJ Charla Gaddy, Student, Command and General Staff College, Fort Belvoir, VA.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.)

Posted by: Virushunter08 | February 9, 2011 10:55 PM
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I think this is Yes Minster come to life. This is jobs for the boys. Lose your job as Mayor of DC and you get gig as a salesman. Also it should be noted Mr. Fennty will be guest teaching a class at Oberlin in the spring. He has never taught any class but he has very good contacts at the school.

Posted by: jmfox5166 | February 8, 2011 1:13 AM
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Sounds like a number of commentators missed ALL their weekend AA or NA meetings.

But this was only Cairo, where with a very respectable Ph.D. many cab driving positions are available.

So WHY finish school, college or whatever, when there are 'escort service" jobs that pay really big bucks in NYC and on the local scene, well there's crack sales --- and now diverted from the Medical Marijuana lands of California & Colorado, plenty of strong pot in town to boot.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | February 7, 2011 1:24 AM
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So much ignorance of the facts out there. Mayor Fenty stopped a LOT of embezzlement and corruption by the central government of D.C. as well as D.C. Public Schools administration. Gee whiz, it sure is good to go back to Teacher union dominated DCPS! Whoo-Hoo! You know, because D.C. schools were always so good before Fenty was Mayor! Hahaha! Sure thing. The really sad thing is most people here have no idea about what is coming. The bankruptcy of D.C. Don't feel so smug, though. Most states are bankrupt. So is the Federal Gov't. Before this austerity is over with, 30% of Federal employees will be fired.

Posted by: shred11 | February 6, 2011 8:32 PM
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He was a failure as mayor, he'll be a failure at Rosetta Stone and a failure everywhere else he goes.

Posted by: vataf | February 6, 2011 12:11 PM
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It's amazing how a few years in an elected position people who otherwise have absolutely no qualifications can get an cushy job. Rossetta Stone just makes language software. That's it. What do they need Fenty for?

Posted by: satchwinston | February 4, 2011 10:13 AM
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Fenty isn't very well versed in English, let alone a foreign language. On Leadership, Fenty blew through a billion dollar surplus left to him by former Mayor Anthony Williams, who, I add, is now a Harvard Professor and partner in a large law firm, leaving the city with close to 600 million dollars in debt. Spending the city into bankruptcy is not a sign of a great leader but a failed one.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 4, 2011 10:13 AM
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Correction: I haven't had my cup of coffee yet. LOL

Why won't the Washington Post let former King Fenty rest in peace? Most black Washingtonians don't care about Fenty or what happens to him after he left office.

Posted by: illegalalien | February 4, 2011 8:18 AM
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I forgot to state, I am a Ward 1 DC resident.

Posted by: illegalalien | February 4, 2011 8:16 AM
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Why want the Washington Post let Adrian Fenty rest in peace? No one care about what happens in this man's life. He made most DC residents lives unhappy. The guy was a total jerk.

Posted by: illegalalien | February 4, 2011 8:15 AM
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I don't get this quote by Rosetta Stone CEO, "We are confident that Adrian Fenty will help Rosetta Stone drive innovation in the classroom by empowering schools to discover new ways to use technology." Since when did Ex-Mayor Fenty become a technologist? I missed that as a DC resident. He's like most of America, he just knows how to use technology. Seems that they would want a CTO more for that role...but, this is politics. While I voted for Gray, I'm not mad a man being able to make a living as long as he's not hurting anyone. Make that money Fenty...I'm sure that's what it's all about anyway.

Posted by: Akintunde | February 4, 2011 7:53 AM
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Fenty has issues speaking English to the residents of DC. I guess he must take care of those children he has.....There goes the stock in Rosetta.....

Posted by: mcseacna | February 4, 2011 5:48 AM
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Scottschmditt....do you live in Ward 3 of the District of Columbia? Commenters..please tell us which ward you live in in our beloved District of Columbia. Transparancy?

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | February 3, 2011 11:31 PM
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"Not all white Americans are biased, but all white Americans have been affected by bias." And so it goes....

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | February 3, 2011 11:15 PM
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I assume that the commenters live in the District and that they have followed Mr. Fenty's career on the Council and as Mayor and know something about Oberlin and teaching foreign languages. Otherwise, blah, blah, blah....

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | February 3, 2011 11:01 PM
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I am really losing patience with the post.
But everyone has to have some job.
As a student of one of the Rosetta stone products and a post subscriber I really didnt need to hear that they have adrian fenty in thier stable who left this city deep in debt and wreked havoc on our education system.

Posted by: yzsmith | February 3, 2011 10:21 PM
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Posted by: SCOTTSCHMIDTT | February 3, 2011 8:51 PM
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I didn't know Mr. Fenty was a linguist. There is a great band from DC called Rosetta Stoned. Maybe that is what they are talking about in this article:)

Posted by: paulwesterberg1 | February 3, 2011 8:34 PM
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In corporate America the bottom-line is the dollar and Fenty's fiscal management record as the Mayor of DC is criminal!

I'll give him less than a year before he's booted out!

Posted by: GoldCoast | February 3, 2011 8:14 PM
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Congrat to Countess Fenty show DC the DIVA still has the juice.

Posted by: blkisin | February 3, 2011 7:41 PM
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Its over Washington Post--everyone has moved on. Good luck Adrian and Good riddance. Maybe you can run for mayor of Arlington

Posted by: 8709hamilton | February 3, 2011 6:39 PM
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Is Rosetta Stone releasing a new product, "Hooked on Ebonics?

Posted by: wjfreeman1 | February 3, 2011 6:15 PM
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Good luck to Mr. Fenty in all his new endeavors. Thanks for putting yourself out there and actually serving in a publicly elected office. Too many people who believe they have all of the answers aren't brave enough to step away from their keyboard and actually run for public office. Any position after serving the public and being scrutinized non-stop should be a piece of cake.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | February 3, 2011 6:11 PM
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We disagreed with him being mayor--so he is no longer mayor. No need to kick dirt.

But I did not know Mayor Fenty spoke a foreign language, that is where the oddity appears.

Posted by: CultureClub | February 3, 2011 4:30 PM
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I agree with Robert Vinson Brannum. No matter the excessive hype behind Rhee and the love affair the Post seems to have had with the Fenty administration, Adrian failed on so many levels, beginning with the schools and moving on to corrupt deals with his friends. Perhaps Rosetta Stone is simply using him as a well (enough) known figurehead.

Posted by: wpost36 | February 3, 2011 3:46 PM
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Fenty probably thinks this is the former Sister Rosetta Stone of Cheech & Chong fame. He and the frat brothers can sit around all day telling gross jokes and pretending to be eternally in the 8th grade.

Posted by: blankspace | February 3, 2011 3:26 PM
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The Washington Post and other news media outlets are joining forces in an attempt to re-write history about the FAILED leadership of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Robert Vinson Brannum

Posted by: robert158 | February 3, 2011 3:08 PM
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