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Tim Russert's death has caused me to think differently about a lot of what I do. My musings:

Energy and Enthusiasm: One thing that I found most intriguing is that Tim Russert really had an energy and enthusiasm that we don’t often bring to the work that we all do! I know that even today, even though I promised myself to remember how lucky I am to work in the field of education, I am feeling a little bit annoyed about a meeting that we had yesterday. How did he handle that? How did he continue to model his beliefs, feel proud of his field (and his country) and not get mired down in the nitty-gritty of everyday? And, how do you train yourself to be the model of energy and enthusiasm and truly convey the love of what you do? You have to do that! I love what I do, but I am not always sure that comes across to those that I work with on committees and in meetings. AND I rarely feel that energy, that passion and that love of our profession from many around me.

The Nitty-Gritty: He seemed to thrive on the nitty-gritty and the details. Even though I know that essentials are needed in getting the job down, I must admit that I feel that we often focus on the wrong essentials, the wrong details. Can any detail be the wrong detail to focus on? My guess is that Tim Russert would certainly argue that you never know when each of these details becomes very important in the long term. He savored the nitty-gritty.

Relationships: I think what I found the most important as I was glued to the television is that he WAS about people. From his roots in Buffalo to his employees, and to his relationships with his guests on Meet the Press, this man was for us and never against us. I want to work in that world. I want to work with a team that you feel that the entire leadership team is on the same path towards a common vision.

Accountability: I want to feel that I am held to a high standard and held accountable, and I want others to feel the same and not be threatened by that. I want everyone to be challenged in the work that they do and forced to think about the decisions that they make. From teachers to superintendents, there are few of us who appreciate being held accountable for the decisions we make. It is to be assumed that because we are working hard that we are not to be asked the questions. I see malpractice everyday in our profession, and if it is questioned, then the principal or the teacher feels he or she is doing something wrong and plays victim vs. taking some time to reflect. We get to set in our ways in education and I want a Tim Rusert in my corner. I want that leadership to continue to push my thinking and make me better because of it!

Thanks for this post. (When I began writing this, I had no idea how much I had been pondering what I idealized in Tim Russert!)

Tim S.

Excellent post, Mr. Hillman. I liked a lot of what you wrote. I do have one point to make, or something that you wrote that I would tweak. You wrote about asking everyone "tough questions". As a guidance counselor, I do not have a problem with a principal asking me tough questions. Bring it on. However, please make sure that you know what you are talking about. The first day of school last year, a brand new assistant principal stormed into my office and confronted me. She asked, "why didn't you give Joey a schedule? I sent him to your office to get one!!!!". The answer was simple. The "roster chair" gives out schedules, not counselors. I think she expected me to answer, "I was eating my lunch" or "on the phone with my wife". She was dissapointed it seemed that the answer made her look like a fool.
Also, as a principal, in addition to asking tough questions, how about being able to RECEIVE tough questions? If you have some sort of a leadership team (which every principal should in some form), what happens if a counselor, math teacher, librarian, whatever, says to you, "I think if you do a, b and c like you want, x, y, and z will happen. That's not good. Are you open to doing it this way, instead?". What happens? Some principals (maybe even most or many) yell out "I'M THE PRINCIPAL HERE, NOT YOU! IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT YOU CAN LEAVE!!!". Or, do you do as most principals on this board would do (I hope) and say, "thank you Mr. S. That's a good point, what do others here think?...". I am afraid there might be some administrators here that misinterpret your comment about asking tough questions. They probably just barged out of their office and are yelling, "where's the Code 13 form that I asked for yesterday?". "Where are your lesson plans?", "why was the bus late today?". "why, why, why, why, why, why, WHY?".
OK, maybe I have worked under too many bad administrators and have become too cynical. I apologize.

Matt Hillmann

Fair points, Tim. I agree with your comments. I think sometimes we are the opposite as leaders - shying away from asking the tough questions (staff, parents) when we know there will be some strong opposition or when it is an individual who does great things and goes above and beyond for the organization. I believe you are talking about making sure questions are asked in a tactful nature and I couldn't agree more. Everyone who works in a school deserves respect and in turn should respect others.

In addition, I don't view tough questions as always confrontational in nature. Sometimes it can be about reflecting on systems changes to make the organization better when we are already doing great. As an old 4Her I always look at "making the best better." The connection I made to Mr. Russert is in direct relation to your comments - he asked the tough question without being demeaning or disrespectful. We should strive to be that way.

As leaders, we need to develop a situation where there is trust and comfort to bring items to the table. However, we also need to understand that not every idea can be advanced and not every concern solved.

It is about team! Great leadership is about more than one individual, though one individual can provide great leadership.


Tim - nice "tough question" and beautifully answered by Matt. It IS about the team and making things work together. If we are all in it together and have the same goal, this is fine and positive. Although I don't storm in and yell and I do try to know what is going on, it does get frustrating dealing with someone that is clearly not on board with you, and at that point it may be appropriate to over rule and make the "tough decision" at some point. Hopefully always with respect - even if it may not be returned.

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