Interview with Superintendent Tom Rooney

Jill: Hey Tom thanks for joining me today!

Tom: Hi Jill, glad to be here.

Jill: Can you give us just a quick brief about yourself, your school, your role there and how long you’ve been a Breakthrough Coach practitioner?

Tom: Yeah I am the Superintendent of Schools for Lindsay Unified School District in the Central Valley of California. About 4,000 learners in a k-12 system. I have been a Breakthrough Coach practitioner for nearly 20 years., as a principal, as an assistant superintendent and now as a superintendent.

Jill: Quite masterful, Tom, quite masterful. So Malachi and I have been talking to the group about how the job of the executive is to do nothing, just talk. Please share with us how you practice this distinction of Superintendent of Lindsay and the difference doing nothing makes in your ability to lead your district.

Tom: I would say that this whole context of doing nothing is I’ve realized probably about 15 years ago that my job is really about developing the others in my organization. My job is to make sure that everybody understands the mission, the vision, the goals of the organization and my job is to empower them to create the conditions for them to actually deliver on the results that they’re supposed to deliver on.

And so what I do on a regular basis is my job is really to listen to people, to talk with people, to give warm feedback or cold feedback, to give some guidance on the various projects in the various areas that they are advancing, but ultimately they are doing the work. Ultimately my job is to be there as a person who is training and developing them, as a person who is observing their performance and giving them feedback, as a person who ultimately is creating the conditions in empowering them to advance the goals that that they are responsible for delivering on. And what we found is so many of our learners, so many of our leaders, have become empowered, learners and leaders, have become empowered to really deliver on the results that they’re responsible for delivering on. And the more they deliver the more responsibilities they receive and actually the more empowerment that they receive. And I would say in Lindsey the results, what’s happened, is we are a district that is a hundred percent poverty, 53 percent English learners, 13 percent homeless, very low parent education levels, and yet we have gone from the very lowest performing School District in Tulare County, to the very highest performing school district according to the California dashboard.

We have a 98% graduation rate, we have almost 98% of our learners coming to school every single day, we have not had a single expulsion this entire school year, in a district of 4,000 children. And with regard to graduation and what happens with our learners is 75% of our children of poverty are going to college right after high school and 57% of them are getting a college degree within four years.

And so this really has to do with the fact that every member of our organization, every leader particularly, has developed the skills and has been empowered to carry out on the results that they are responsible for carrying out. Whether that’s a learning result, whether it has to do with attendance, whether it has to do with college preparation, whether it has to do with budget. Whatever it has to do with, my job is to make sure everybody delivers on the results and that’s all I do. I sit, I listen, and I talk to people.

Jill: Can you just share Tom, with our audience here, as you practice the do-nothing just-talking distinction, how many hours a week do you work as Superintendent of Lindsay and where do you spend the bulk of your time? What percentage of your time is spent on training and developing people?

Tom: Yes I, at the very, I say my average work week is 45 hours a week, and I would be once in a while I worked 48 or 50, and I would say I spend 85 to 90 percent of my time is engaged in training helping people.

Jill: So what parting wisdom, you get the final word here, what parting wisdom do you have for our audience about the power of the executive doing nothing for causing breakthroughs and time, results, and satisfaction?

Tom: My parting wisdom, if you call it such, is my final advice to any leader is that the sooner you realize that you are not the smartest person in the room, and the sooner you realize that your job is to get things done through other people, the better.

When you’re doing the work and micromanaging your organization, you are getting in the way of results. The results happen when everyone in the organization is clear and aligned to the mission the vision and the goals and they are empowered to carry out the mission and the vision and the goals in the jobs that are uniquely theirs.

Quit trying to be everything to everyone, put your energies into developing the capacity of those on your team in every conversation, in every meeting, in every interaction, and you will see breakthrough results.

Jill: Thank you. Well sounds like it’s been a fantastic pandemic transition for you all and I wish you well into the course of this summer and as you plan for the opening of next year and thanks for joining us, really great Tom thanks.

Tom: You’re welcome.