By the end of her first 100-days, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's view of New York Schools Chancellor Cathie Black went from "superstar manager" to "this has not worked out", putting her into the 40% of new leaders that fail in their first 18 months. This is a classic example of the strongest athlete not necessarily being the right player for the position he or she is put into. This was primarily a personal failure in that Cathie was a poor fit for the position.
Cathie Black was a superstar
There is no doubt that Cathie is a superstar manager. Her track record of success as President of USA Today, The Newspaper Association of America and then Hearst magazines as well as contributions on the boards of The Coca-Cola Company and IBM attest to that. As Michael Bloomberg said when appointing her into the chancelor role, "She is brilliant, she is innovative, she is driven." Nothing that has happend in the past few months can take any of that away from her.
Cathie was a victim of personal landmines
Cathie may have been motivated to succeed, but she did not have the required strengths and did not fit with the organization. (Click here for a discussion of the seven onboarding landmines.)
In terms of strengths, as Valerie Strauss pointed out in The Washington Post at the time of her appointment, Cathie has "no professional educational experience and does not have the qualifications required by state law to take the job". Gallup suggests strengths are a combination of talent, knowledge, and skills. Cathie failed the knowledge and skills test.
Additionally, while she was a brave choice as chancelor, she was not a BRAVE fit.
Behave: She was used to acting, making decisions, and controling organizations differently than what was required in an organization with so many vocal stakeholders.
Relate: She was used to communicating with others, engaging in intellectual debate, managing conflict, and recognizing and rewarding people differently than what she faced in the NYC schools
Attitude: She perhaps failed to understand the very local nature of how people feel about each individual school's purpose.
Values: The school systems underlying assumptions beliefs, intentions, approach to learning, risk, time horizons, etc. may have been different than what Cathie was used to.
Environment: The work environment in terms of the bare knuckles, very public interactions with constituents were different than what she was used to.
Can't end a post about schools without a lesson. As General McChrystal pointed out in a recent TED Talk, people can fail without being failures. The strongest athlete is not right for every position. Get the fit right.
(photo from AP)