Kaya Henderson: The new and improved Rhee?
"Leadership style," as a management topic, can have about as much intellectual heft in many boardrooms as the celebrity blog TMZ. Like corporate culture, the fuzzy term gets tossed around a lot as something that's important--but then tossed aside in favor of results, no matter how inelegantly they're achieved.
If ever there was an example that shows why management style should get more weight, it's Michelle Rhee. Consider the transfer of power from Rhee to Kaya Henderson, who will be interim schools chancellor but is also considered a potential permanent replacement. Not only did Henderson, like Rhee, get her start with Teach for America and work with Rhee for her New Teacher Project organization, she was an implementer of Rhee's strategies for reform in D.C. She calls Rhee her "friend, partner, mentor."
If that's so, why would presumptive mayor-elect Vincent Gray, given the debate over Rhee's reforms, choose someone who shared so much with the controversial Rhee?
Simple: They may share the same policies, but they don't share the same style. Rhee was brash-talking and blunt, a non-Washingtonian who brought marked improvements to D.C. schools but was not known for consensus-building. Henderson, meanwhile, has lived in Washington for nearly 17 years and was known to have a less alienating style than her former boss. The Post's Bill Turque calls Henderson a "gracious but resolute African American woman," or put simply, "Rhee without Rhee."
Which, despite all the complaints about her approach, seems to be what Washingtonians want. While many disagreed with how she got results, Rhee did improve test scores, and D.C. parents and teachers seem quite concerned that her reforms would end with her departure.
Typically in leadership transitions mired in as much controversy as the D.C. school reforms, there is bold talk of new strategies, of changing tactics, of cleaning house. Not here. D.C. residents still want change, but without the criticism; improvements, but without the insults.
Leaders who achieve quick and admirable outcomes are often cut a lot of slack for their shortcomings, whether they have lesser pedigrees than their peers or get tripped up by personal peccadilloes. But the fashion in which they achieve those results--everything from how they run meetings to how much time they take to listen to underlings--is not something that should be overlooked. While a leader's style may not be as black and white as profits and losses--or in this case, passing and failing grades--it is in these shades of gray that a leader's true colors are revealed.
Also by Jena McGregor:
Where Rhee went wrong
October 15, 2010; 9:47 AM ET |
Women in leadership
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