Do They Really Get it?

We can count the weeks on our two hands! Soon we will elect a President of the United States. Do the major candidates who spend most of their campaigning time hurling insults at each other and claiming bragging rights really get it?

Do they grasp the essence?

An insightful leader understands that he or she is at best a tenant farmer. Their job is to till the soil, sow the seeds, and get things to grow, all the while knowing that the space is not theirs to claim as their own.

They pay for the right to farm by the sweat of their brow and the work of their hands. Tenancy always comes with conditions: conditions of performance and conditions of time.

 Presidents, elected officials, corporate executives, and principals are expected to lead a nation, a state, a company or a school toward excellence and do so with diligence, honesty, and grace.

Performance is measured by goals set and goals reached while considering the path taken to get there. Questions will always simmer in the minds of some followers.

 What short cuts were taken? Whose toes were stepped on? Why was this direction deemed the right one? And when will these decisions come back to haunt us?

 Constituents are wary by nature, but even the hardened, “show me” skeptics want to believe that their chosen leader is worthy of the title. The last thing anyone wants is to be embarrassed by their leader’s personal or professional behavior.

When this happens, as it can in all arenas, progress in an organization slows to a crawl, and everyone suffers.


                   From The Principal’s Chair, Who Sits There Matters, A Secret

                         of School Success by Judith D. Knotts


This campaign season has been an embarrassment to many Americans—others have relished the reality show goings-on. But we are better than this!

We are electing the President of the United States— the leader of the most powerful and remarkable nation in the world, despite some of our short-comings.

I for one want to be inspired. I want to be proud to be an American. I want to be eager to vote for a candidate who gets it— this land is not theirs, but ours!


our land

There’s got to be a better way!  Do you care enough to get off the couch and do something about it? Consider these 9 essential elements as you contemplate your next step


I must have driven guidance counselors in school crazy. I had no dream job in mind. Professionally, I slid into education a bit of a rebel. I didn’t remember too many great teachers or principals —just the opposite.

* There was the red-headed teacher who screamed as she threw a pair of loafers out the second story window of the 5th grade class room because my friend had slipped them off and they were under her desk.

* Then there was the teacher who thought his motivation system was brilliant. He set up his classroom intentionally arranging us in rows by grade point average so the last row by the wall was full of middle school students who couldn’t read well or sit still for very long.

* Even at the top of a school hierarchy, I was stunned by adult behavior. A principal, who was a nun dressed in habit and all, told me to hang out with the more popular students so I could get on the student council.

 Hard to believe even today. UGH All!

I had a sort of a —“I’ll get even” attitude. There had to be better ways to run a school, (or any other organization).  In college, I ignored the education major and preferred to think deep thoughts in philosophy. All good, but 4 years later, no job prospects. So eventually my old dreams of the perfect school led me to graduate school for some skills I surely lacked.

As a teacher, I was okay, not great, but okay. I was always thinking beyond my class to the whole school and imagining what needed doing. The Leo trait in me—wanting to be the boss—refused to die quietly.

So hurrah! Early on I got the chance to be an administrator and funnel all of that energy and those ideas into something productive, or at least different. And did I ever learn along the way by watching what to do and what not to do as a leader.

At a certain point in my career, I realized that I needed more education in order to consult and lead and decided to go back to graduate school. Here I dove into all kinds of leadership studies. In the dreaded doctoral dissertation, I focused on what makes an organization move from an idea to the real thing in the early stages—important because the failure

rate in start-ups, profit or nonprofit, is high.

In my research, I discovered that 9 things are necessary for an idea to become a reality in the early stages of an organization:

1. Vision

2. Money

3. Power

4. Trust

5. Expertise

6. Contacts

7. Time

8. Risk-taking

9. Tenacity

All this because as a child, I saw things that were not working in schools— and knew I could do a better job as an adult. I wanted to create and sustain schools, and other organizations, honoring individuals while staying committed to excellence.

Do these 9 assets for start-ups ring true to you? Are there others I missed? Is there something that is bothering you to the core, like the school experiences that I could not ignore, which could move you, or is moving you forward?

Thoughts On Leadership & On Life

My twin passions! Does this seem a strange combination to you or an inspired one? This double whammy hit me early on.

 GS pin

As a skinny eager kid, I was selected by my town to be part of the First International Girl Scout Senior Roundup. This was a big deal to me. The editor of the local paper called me in to tell me to send reports to the paper. Maybe by carrier pigeon, I’m not sure, this was a long time ago before technology took off. I did as he requested and learned my first journalism lesson from this man—always include, who, what, when, where and why. No English class could have done a better job. I was a real reporter—maybe considered a real leader as well. The town paid for me to go, that said something, right?


This Girl Scout honor smacked of leadership and life. I was one of 5,000 girls chosen to represent our cities and towns. We traveled to Michigan from all over the United States and some foreign countries as well. There we lived together for nearly two weeks, all the time having fun and practicing our leadership skills. True to our scouting background, we pitched our tents in fields, built campfires for cooking, and sang under the stars.



Lots of lessons on leadership and life from this experience were stored in my brain. Come to think of it— I was a blogger in Michigan before the term blogging was even coined — and shared daily news of the Roundup from my perspective. So I blog again. This time, I believe my words are broader, richer, and more inspiring from a life well-lived.


Risk-taking and writing have always been part of my leadership and life as:

* A consultant to schools for 15 years working with school heads and boards helping them lead more effectively while creating better environments and programs

* A school head where I wrote more than 500 articles for faculty, staff, and parents

* An entrepreneur, part of two nonprofit startup organizations —one that became successful supporting low-income families, giving their children a better start in life —the other an organization that helped schools teach philanthropy to children where they became the doers, experiencing leadership and the joy of giving

* An author of two books, one for parents, and one for principals and those who educate and support them

* A coach for a CEO group whose members want to sharpen their leadership skills and strengthen their relationships

*A friend of the homeless community— feeding them, sometimes sleeping among them, and making them part of my life

*A columnist, contributing to the Austin American Statesman’s Faith Section, In Your Own Words, since 2008


Okay, why leadership? Because it matters—to relationships, progress, and peace. Our roles may vary, but it’s always present as a family member, neighbor, worker, boss, volunteer, and citizen. Some people are natural leaders, others have to work harder. Some have a bit of training, others just jump in feet first. Both kinds of people get frustrated at times as the doing is uncertain and the outcome unpredictable.


Okay, why life, and in a blog intertwined with leadership? Life is who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Because we only have one life to live, how we choose to live it matters enormously. We have choices to make which affect not only us as individuals, but others. Our choices ripple out, reaching those we know and those we don’t even know exist.


If you are wondering whether this blog is for you here is an invitation and a smattering of what you will find. There will be a crazy assortment of leadership ideas for anyone who is interested. There will be observations about the world we share from seasoned CEOs and leaders I know, and from my homeless friends who live on the streets, in the woods, and under bridges.


There will be snapshots of people coping, or not coping, and stories of someone caught in the act of doing something good or missing an opportunity to become more human. And always, there will be lots of questions and a few answers—On Leadership & On Life.


Buy the Book


“What a great look into the professional and personal life of the principalship! The Principal’s Chair will help new principals prepare for their new leadership role.”

—Dr. Paul Cruz, Superintendent, Austin Independent School District, Austin, TX


“With 10,000 baby-boomers retiring each day in America, leadership transitions abound, and that makes The Principal’s Chair especially timely for rising school heads and principals. Written in a frank style that conveys the accumulated wisdom of the author’s many years as an educational leader, it reminds us all of on-the-ground realities that take time to learn and that are easy to forget— unless you keep company with sages like Judy Knotts. She avoids plodding theoretical abstractions and capitalizes on rich human experiences, using brief and telling anecdotes to illustrate central messages—which hold true for all of us who lead schools, whether public, private, religious, or independent. If you draw inspiration from listening to observant colleagues reflect on ‘lessons learned’ from their careers, this will be a very satisfying and uplifting read, as it reaffirms that our lives as leaders make a profound impact of those we serve in our schools.”

—James McManus, Executive Director, California Association of Independent Schools, Burbank, CA; Member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Board of Trustees, Washington DC


“We need great principals to have great schools. Enter Judy Knotts who writes with authenticity earned from her years as a highly successful principal. Her chapters are full of lessons learned on how to lead, build an effective team, treasure people, and how to rally, motivate and inspire the entire school community. Her book is easy to read and vibrantly alive with rich and memorable examples that illustrate the theories, methods, and practices that when implemented will help develop great principals, the kind that can create the outstanding schools our children need and deserve. It’s a terrific book— chock full of wonderful and practical ideas to help aspiring, new, and, experienced school leaders reach greatness.”

—Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Faculty Director of the School Leadership Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA


About the Author

Judith D. Knotts is a seasoned school head, leadership expert, and writer. She is adept at combining curated theories of being a CEO with vivid and varied examples of doing or not doing an outstanding job as a school leader. With experience gleaned from decades of observing principals in action, Dr. Knotts has been a consultant to schools, a member of the National Advisory Board for the Harvard Principals’ Center, and co-director of the Joan L. Curcio International Women’s Leadership Conferences at Oxford University. She has served on accreditation teams for the Independent School Association of the Southwest (ISAS) d is currently a commissioner for the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department.


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