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Summer 2017

You Already Have What it Takes

What It TakesIn today’s education climate, it’s a constant battle to figure out how to do more with less. Funding structures aside, administrators meticulously evaluate each dollar spent looking for the greatest return on investment. What becomes possible when administrators extend return-on-investment thinking to people inside their buildings, knowing that everyone is brilliant at something?

Multiplier leaders, as described in The Multiplier Effect (Foster’s book), use their intelligence to amplify smarts and capability. Multipliers believe that everyone has some-thing worthwhile to contribute. They see brilliance everywhere, actively uncovering and accessing each employee’s “native genius” — that thing he or she does exceptionally well that can’t be turned on or off.

Multipliers not only put genius to work, but they stretch these natural talents in new ways that cause growth. By redefining what it means to give 100 percent, the school or district quickly develops a reputation as a “place to grow.” Connecting natural passions and native genius to opportunities isn’t just a lucky discovery, it’s a deliberate management approach.

For example, during an initiative to revolutionize STEM learning across the Los Altos School District in California, assistant superintendent Alyssa Gallagher tapped math teacher Courtney Cadwell and three others to be part of a blended learning pilot team tasked with integrating online learning tools. It was a messy process with big challenges. Cadwell stepped in asking questions and helping others make sense of the issues. Gallagher recognized how these messy areas brought out Cadwell’s natural leadership — her genius for navigating complexity. The more complex the challenges, the better she was.

After a successful pilot, Gallagher wrangled funding to spread these new strategies across all upper-grade math classes involving more than 50 teachers. Cadwell became an elementary school principal while a second pilot team member took a new STEM role. Starting with a blank sheet, these “Magic Markers” — people who create something from nothing — designed a lunchtime Tinker Club for student design challenges. Working for a multiplier, teachers felt utilized, stretched, and ready for the next big challenge.

A first step to engage people at their highest point of contribution is to become a genius watcher, actively on the hunt for what’s native. Constantly challenge yourself to uncover latent capabilities by asking, “How is this person smart?” One by one, you’ll discover the native geniuses of your staff.

Elise Foster, Ed.M.’06, is a leadership educator. Alyssa Gallagher is with the Wiseman Group. Erik Burmeister is superintendent of Menlo Park City School District.