Leadership Lessons From Buffalo’s Poorly Performing Schools

By almost every measure the performance of Buffalo Public Schools are a failure. A recent report regarding the operation of Buffalo schools highlights management issues that have had a negative impact on the entire school system. The same issues identified in the Buffalo Public Schools exist in how City government in general is operated in Buffalo and most likely your community as well.

Rewording the report findings so that they apply to city government instead of schools the report would read as follows:

– All decision-making for everything from staffing to budgeting is concentrated in City Hall, not in the departments or community.

– Central office administrators are out of touch with what happens in the community and their departments, and they rarely leave their City Hall offices to engage directly with the public and department heads . They either ignore requests for help from the public/department heads or fail to respond adequately.

– Department heads and citizens are often disconnected, unguided and unsupported due to a lack of service and support from the central office.

– Joint department head meetings are rarely held and there generally is a lack of written direction and communication to department heads.

– Department heads are typically not involved in decisions regarding who will be hired to fill positions in their departments.

– Department heads do not have the autonomy or resources to tailor expenditures to the needs of their department.

– Professional development sessions are not aligned with the needs of each department. There is no method in place for departments to share best practices.

– Practices that have not demonstrated effectiveness continue to be implemented.

– The City Council should be criticized for letting the Mayor administer operations in a oppressive way. Suffocation of talent does not qualify as strong leadership, and if the City Council didn’t know its Mayor was pursuing that strategy, it should have.

– The City Council is often unwilling to do what good leaders do: set policy and expect administrators to implement it.

My favorite line from the Buffalo Schools report is “suffocation of talent does not qualify as strong leadership”. True leaders understand the importance of hiring talented staff and empowering them to take action to get things done. Petty leaders obsessed with being in charge suffocate talent by micro managing and controlling all decisions. Unfortunately many of the management mistakes made by the Buffalo Schools above are occurring in the operation of local governments across the country, including the City of Buffalo and County of Erie.

What do you think about the leadership issues listed above?


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