September 15, 2017 Blog, Leadership

What We Can Learn from the Cubs (Even if You’re a White Sox Fan)

For the record, I am a White Sox fan.

But when our partners at MB Financial invited me to a breakfast with the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, my curiosity won out over cross-town rivalry. I am glad it did!

Theo’s focus was leadership – a theme that matters a lot to me and to my team. He shared three ideas I thought might resonate with you:

In a game built around failure, trust is key.
In baseball, even a great hitter is out seven out of 10 times. Theo said that trust in the “Cubs Way” means that his players and coaches can focus on the process, instead of on the failure itself. Although instruction is ultimately designed for students to succeed, they too have to struggle to learn. Teachers – like baseball coaches – have to manage that struggle in a way that maximizes growth. Strong principals create trusting environments and build faith in the learning process among teachers and students, ensuring continuous improvement and growth. To help more principals do just that, we launched a culture and climate track as a part of our 2017 Summer Design Program; 57 teams are busy implementing their own versions of the “Cubs Way” this school year.

Data and technology are tools for decision making, not decision makers.
Theo talked about upgrading Cubs technology from flip phones and carbon paper (!) to a proprietary data tool that allows him to manage the organization – from the minor leagues to the majors – on his smart phone. He also emphasized that no system makes decisions, people do. Many of the principals in our network share Theo’s approach; they have developed smart systems to leverage data, and the most successful among them recognize the importance of using that data to inform their decisions. Principal Barton Dassinger of Chavez Elementary would fit right in with Theo’s team; his use of data to transform learning is legendary among his peers. That is why we asked him to run a Professional Learning Community (PLC) for other principals this school year; more than 80 principals will begin PLCs together soon.

When you find a competitive advantage, you have to pour resources into it.
Theo talked about how his team spends time developing talent that other organizations fail to see. They build belief in the potential of the player, and invest in his development; they place big bets on people in order to win on the field. I believe principals and the quality educator teams they build in schools are Chicago’s competitive advantage. That’s why The Fund will invest $4 million in principal principal-focused programs in the 2017-18 school year. More than 200 principals citywide will benefit from these supports, but the impact will be felt where it matters most – in our classrooms and schools.

Theo’s approach to managing the Cubs brought a World Series victory back to Chicago. I see strong parallels between his approach and the work of our city’s best principals. The results may not prompt a ticker tape parade on Michigan Avenue, but it is important to recognize that our students and educators are hitting home runs, too.