Build Momentum - Thought Leadership for Education

S02E16 - Our New Book: The Secret to Transformational Leadership | Dr. Quintin Shepherd

March 31, 2022 Sarah Williamson / Quintin Shepherd Season 2 Episode 16
Build Momentum - Thought Leadership for Education
S02E16 - Our New Book: The Secret to Transformational Leadership | Dr. Quintin Shepherd
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Build Momentum, we are joined by Dr. Quintin Shepherd. Quintin has18 years’ experience as a superintendent and currently holds that leadership role at Victoria Independent School District in Victoria, Texas. He has a demonstrated history of improving school districts in both rural and urban areas in multiple states by being committed to transformational and collaborative leadership focus on doing what is best for the children in each district. Quintin is the co-author of the book “The Secret To Transformational Leadership,” together with Sarah Williamson.

Some Questions I Ask:

  • Please share your journey in education and how you became a superintendent (1:38)
  • What are some high-level projects you initiated in your school district? (4:25) 
  • Why did you feel compelled to write the book and what do you hope people will achieve when they read it? (7:50)
  • You offered specific examples where you said there is a change that needs to happen. What are some of those examples? (10:05)
  • What is your philosophy about competence versus compassion, and how has it transformed your personal approach? (13:14)
  • Describe what you call this new language of leadership and explain its potential to ignite a spark in leaders and their teams? (15:56)
  • What does “leading from the middle” mean to you, and how can others apply it? (21:11)


In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Quintin’s journey in education and leadership (1:47)
  • Projects Quintin supported in his school district (4:37)
  • His journey into writing “The Secret to Transformational Leadership” (8:16)
  • The differences between transactional and transformational leadership (10:22)
  • Competent and compassionate philosophies of leadership (13:21)
  • What Quintin means by calling for a new language of leadership (16:21)
  • How to lead from the middle (21:17)


Quotes:

“Everybody has a unique and personal genius, and I think we should find their genius and let their genius shine.”

“My goal was to make this topic as approachable as possible for people. there's a theoretical underpinning. You're basically trying to learn a different language when you're working toward transformational leadership.”

“Compassion creates ownership. It seems so easy as I'm saying it! But it requires the leader to step back and just be honest about one thing: that you're vulnerable. You don't choose to be vulnerable. You don't pick a time to be vulnerable. You're just vulnerable, accepted. And when you recognize a situation as complex and unknowable, you have no choice but to be compassionate. Because if you decide to be competent, whatever it is that you do, you will be judged—and you will be judged harshly.”

“My personal definition of leadership: iIt's an influence relationship. That's it. So anybody can be a leader.”


Connect with Quintin Shepherd:
Quintin Shepherd's LinkedIn
Quintin Shepherd’s Twitter

About the book:
Transformational Leadership Secret website
Purchase “The Secret to Transformational Leadership” print or ebook

Stay in touch with Sarah Williamson:
Free Case Study Guide
Website
Facebook



Sarah Williamson:

Hello and welcome to Build Momentum where we help education organizations, blow past their competitors with strategies that make an impact. We think beyond traditional press releases and generic communication tactics, and seek out big, bold ideas create meaningful results for our clients. I'm your host, Sarah Williamson. And I've spent more than 15 years in public relations for the education sector, where our team has learned what works and what doesn't when it comes to PR from launching groundbreaking new industry awards to landing sought after panels at most prestigious shows. We absolutely love this stuff. But the best part is, we have an opportunity to interview some of the smartest people we know who share their knowledge and strategies for success right here on the show. If you enjoy what you hear, we would so appreciate if you please take a moment just drop us a review on whatever platform you listen. And if you want to learn more about us, visit swpr-group.com. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Let's dive into the show. On today's episode, we have Dr. Quinton Shepherd, the superintendent at Victoria Independent School District in Victoria, Texas. Welcome, Quinton.

Quintin Shepherd:

It's Good to be back.

Sarah Williamson:

Yes, it's so good to have you back on the show. I think Doug Roberts, the founder of the Institute for Education Innovation introduced us just over a year ago last February, and I'm so grateful that he did shout out to Doug Roberts. I know so there's very special reason you're back on the show today, which I want to get into in a minute. But first, do you mind sharing more about your journey in education and how you landed on the superintendency? I know at a very young age, we talked about that.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, in the IEI my certifications and my original teaching job in school was pre K through 12 music teacher now that was not my first job. One that I like to brag about. My very first job working school was actually as a school custodian. I was a summer custodian just like my grandfather, my grandfather was a full time custodian and farmer at night in the mornings. And so, you know, it's to start off as a custodian then become a teacher, which my mom was a teacher, it's just, it was incredibly fulfilling. And I was in a very small rural school in Illinois, I started to see the four year olds that pre K and five year olds and then a to 18 year olds and the same day sometimes and always amazed at how the four year olds can be more mature than 18 year olds. But it was funny, it was a great learning lesson. And the truth is they chip away at that, like so much of what we have to do in education is in fact sell what it is that we're teaching. And that really governed a lot of the way I started as a leader. From there, I was an elementary principal in a different district and did that for a bit. And then I was a high school principal and did that for a bit. And then I found myself as a superintendent at 27 years old, if you believe that in Central Illinois, and it was an amazing, awesome experience. I had like the most amazing board that you could possibly work for at the time and they let me grow tries my own stuff. And from there, I ended up just outside of Chicago, the first suburb that you would drive into if you left the city heading northwest, that was Skokie, Illinois, all kinds of fun, but totally different. I mean, the nature of the work that I did as a superintendent in the urban community that was pretty dense as compared to the work that I was doing, you know, in a rural community, it was just night and day wouldn't even believe it's the same job and knowing. And then from there, I was recruited to Iowa and spent some time in Iowa as a superintendent in a high performing district and then recruited to Texas, and this is now going into 18 years.

Sarah Williamson:

It's pretty incredible. I love that story. So also, I think you left out that aren't you like an incredible pianist? I think I saw it.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, I do. I play I don't know about incredible. You know, I do I play piano and sing. That was my thing. And I and I did that sort of through high school and loved it so much that I decided to chase it as my passion and my genius. And that's pretty good. As a Music teacher too. And I still do it. Now, when we celebrate our convocation and have you know that 1000s and 1000s of employees come together one of my favorite favorite things I get to do, because we talk a lot about this in my district is just like, we use the word genius. Everybody has a unique and personal genius, and I think we should find their genius and then chase your genius and let their genius shine. And so one of the things I get to do is share my genius by, you know, playing and singing. So we put together a band and we just rock it out at during convocation, which is just is a hoot.

Sarah Williamson:

I bet people love that. I bet they love to see.

Quintin Shepherd:

I do.

Sarah Williamson:

Exactly. That's all about you know, as long as you're having fun. Other people are usually too.

Quintin Shepherd:

That's right.

Sarah Williamson:

That's awesome. So okay, let's talk about Victoria ISC for a minute. So you are doing some incredible things there. Can you just hit some high level projects that you've kicked off the ground that are I know, there's so many that you did.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah there's millions, literally millions of dollars in funding to deploy several different schools within schools and some of our focus schools and just having amazing success with their kids within that model launched a few P TECH high school school within schools for our kids and getting great about that. One of my proudest things, at least in the last few months. I'm going to tell this story in a little bit more detail because it's just so much as an example of what we do see and how we think, per se, we run up against this debacle. And I love the word debacle I wrote about this on LinkedIn post not too long ago, but like we ran into this major debacle and that one of our middle schools became infested with mold literally days before the start of school. And so we had to displace an entire middle school, and we don't have extra campuses just sitting around. And so all of those kiddos ended up at what is our credit recovery camp of credit recovery, if I'm going to be just very, very blunt and overstated, is for kids who have not amassed credits as they work their way through high school. And so they're very much in danger of potentially dropping out of school or not being able to complete high school and get their diploma, we had to move all these middle school kids onto that campus, which displaced all of our credit recovery kids. Now, we found some space for some of them, but we didn't have enough space for all of them. And then through just a wonderful conversation with the local community college president, she said, Hey, I've got six classrooms that we're not using right now. And potentially we could house some of your students since you're going to find an inch. So we sat down and had breakfast together. And it ended up in one of those idea generating brainstorming breakfast where we posed this wonder question, I love wonder questions like Wonder questions, drive innovation, wonder questions drive education in great big leaps forward. And the Wonder question was, what if we said to these kids who are potentially in the risk of dropout track that like, we want to try again, like we want another chance of the miracle round? And what if we gave you the golden ticket and said, We're going to give you more supports than you've ever had in your entire life. And we'd love to be able to enroll you in a college class, we're not going to charge you a penny, we'll cover the cost of college, because we want to see what happens when we enroll you in college and you become college students. We had 120 kids who were potentially dropped out of that 120 Kids 120 Kids are now enrolled in college.

Sarah Williamson:

Oh my gosh, that's awesome.

Quintin Shepherd:

I'm not aware of any other district in the country that has done something like this as our kids, we got to take a handful of them to a governance camp. So they stood up in front of trustees from around the state of Texas, and one girl just like, oh, it was all I could do to not just sob. She said, you know, a year ago, I was a single mother, I was destined to drop out of school. And I'm now in college. And that's pretty cool. And I'm like, my work carries.

Sarah Williamson:

I know,

Quintin Shepherd:

this is why we get into education is so so powerful. But it was just it took creative thinking took not being afraid of failure. It took being willing to embrace innovation, being willing to embrace the possibility of what might be.

Sarah Williamson:

I love that. And it's kind of a good segue into what we're going to talk about next.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, for sure.

Sarah Williamson:

So it sounds like the pillars of your leadership that you've honed over the years. And speaking of that, we just launched a book, The Secret to Transformational Leadership, that we're releasing this next week at ASUGSB. And we're so happy, yay. Let's do a little shout out to us. Yay. So happy. And it's beautiful, and Quintin,

Quintin Shepherd:

Yay! so you crafted the leadership framework, and artfully share this new language of leadership in every chapter. And together with that, I wrote the case studies on transformational leaders who are putting your philosophies into practice. But I would love today for you to share why you felt so compelled to write this book. And what you hope people will achieve when they read it. Like the book was because, you know, over this 18 year career as a superintendent, we're taught to do leadership in a certain way. And we read all these leadership books in preparation and we watch other leaders who came before us. And so much of what leaders the length, literally the language that leaders use, is very much transactional in their places in our job. And there's places in our works where where we have to be transactional. And transactional is not a bad thing. I don't think it's a bad thing. Transactional is required and necessary component of our work. But there's other stuff that we want to do that we could be doing. We might be doing, right? like what I just described with our kids. And that's not transactional. What happened in that space was totally transformational. 100% transformational. And what I noticed was that there was like, I would talk to all these people, I'm just I like to I'm a connector, I like being connected leaders. And it doesn't matter if they're in education or outside of education. And I realized that there are people who are actually doing transformational work, or using slightly different language. And I thought, Oh, this is fascinating what they call it is like code switching right between these two different. And so I'm like, Oh, this is really cool. Like, there's this thing that's happening and transactional spaces. And then there's this thing that's happening transformational spaces. So I spent like, a decade ruminating on this. And I realized there's this list of words is really, really, really long. And there's no way I could get through all of it in the book. But I thought to myself, What if I could get just a few of these like conceptual phrases, and say, here's how you use this word in a transactional space. And here's the antithesis of that phrase, like, here's the same thing that you're trying to accomplish, but in a transformational space. And so my goal was to make it as approachable as possible for people, that there's a recognition that there's like this theoretical underpinning. That you're basically trying to learn a different language when you're doing work for transformational leadership.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, I love this. And I feel like okay, so it sounds like it was over a decade, you were kind of mulling this over and honing this language. But were there any specific examples of moments where you said, Okay, I got it, this has to change, I gotta do something about this.

Quintin Shepherd:

For sure. Like the first half of my career, the first 10 years of my career, like every time there was a catastrophic failure, which I don't really want to get into, like the whole, like, let's unpack Quintin and do a psychological thing on him right now. But like, basically, anytime there was a failure, it was because I was going to do something transformational, and it backfire. And the one example, I guess, that immediately rises to top of mine was my second superintendency. And it was this cultural thing. And it was a religious thing, and it was around Halloween. And we was making some decisions about celebrations in the classroom. And like I was doing, and I cared about my community and wanted to do every part of it, right. And like, it totally exploded on me in a way that I never ever wanted it to happen. And like, I didn't have the language to do that thing that my community needed me to do. And the funny thing was the next year, slight modification, did the exact same thing a second time, and nobody said a word. And I'm like, oh, and that was about the time where the pivot started to happen. And then the second half of my career, all I can do is tell stories of success. Where this was a time when I recognized that transformational was needed. This is a time when I recognize one of the other words that I use a lot is complex. This is a complex situation. And so we're going to use a different type of language and a different approach. And then it's been an enormous success. And frankly, we've had some amazing successes that when we tell people, we did this thing, and we made this really, really hard decision, and folks are like, there's no conceivable reality that that's actually the way that it went. I'll give a good example, we rezone here in Victoria, we rezone like two thirds of the district. That's like telling people that they're going to go to new schools and new cut lines and the whole bit, right, like this is something that it's in the top three things it gets most superintendents fired when we went through the process, because we recognize that it was complex. And so we wanted the community to take ownership in the decision. And we used our transformational language, that when we went through the process, and you have the great big community forum, and they all Torian, where you expect 1000s and 1000s of people to show up, we gave the presentation and we get to the end of the presentation, and we said, Okay, now it's the open mic moment, at the moment where you're paying for like, does anybody have any real questions, and not a single person got up. Not one, not one person. And then when it came time for the board to enact that plan, two people spoke, one person was against it, because it just had negative ramifications for his family. And the other person got up and said, Thank you for the process.

Sarah Williamson:

Wow.

Quintin Shepherd:

And I was like, okay, that's that never happens anywhere. Like there's nobody who's ever going to believe that that was the reality of our situation. But that's how it went.

Sarah Williamson:

I know good thing. You wrote a book. And we're teaching a course on this. And you can adopt it too.

Quintin Shepherd:

Indeed, indeed, it took a lot. It takes a lot of practice.

Sarah Williamson:

Yes, exactly. Well, I'm so glad you're here to share your experiences, because it's clearly valuable. Okay, so Quintin, I don't want to give too much away. But the secret to transformational leadership might be compassion.

Quintin Shepherd:

Hehehehe it might be compassion. Yes.

Sarah Williamson:

So would you share more about your philosophy of competent to compassionate and how that's really transform your personal approach?

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, for sure. So competent, and compassionate. Again, these are terms that juxtaposed against one another, I'll talk about competence first. And in the transactional space, this is when we judge people as being good or bad. And you have to like you have to be competent at this thing. You have to be competent in bond financing, or whatever the complicated work is that we do in the school district. And in order to do that work, you have to use transactional language, we need these certain things to happen this way. And it needs to be good, I should be judged as good, good or bad on some of these complex things that we do. But when we use the competence, language, specifically judgment language, in the transformational space, we've set ourselves up for failure. You can't be transformational, and using competence based language. And so you have to use different language and the opposite of competence in my mind is the opposite of judgment. And so the way you take away judgment is to embrace somebody else's suffering. Now, that sounds easy at first, because you say to yourself, oh, we just need some empathy. That's not it, that doesn't get you there. You see, empathy is that feeling that I know that you're suffering, I understand you're suffering, and here you're suffering, but compassion. Passion means to suffer. Compassion means to suffer with. So what it really what compassion requires is empathy, plus action. It's like I'm feeling your pain right now. I'm feeling your suffering, and I want to do something about it. You see, and if you approach your community with true compassion in your heart, and say, I want to hear your suffering around rezoning the district, I want to hear your suffering around potentially having to close schools. Something else we've done that want to hear your suffering around creating a pandemic response plan. The end people share their suffering. And then you share your suffering. As a leader, I don't I don't actually know what to do. Nobody's ever been in a pandemic, before with all this new technology tools that we have at our disposal. And I'm not sure what's the best way to educate kids during a pandemic. And oh, by the way, I'm trying to feed half the community, because we can't close down our schools and not feed people. And I don't have devices and like I share my suffering. And the community is like, Oh, we're going to totally embrace that suffering. And see what happens. Compassion creates ownership. And it seems so simple. And it seems so easy as I'm saying it. But what it requires is that the leader step back and just be honest about one thing, and that one thing is that you're vulnerable. You don't choose to be vulnerable, you don't pick a time to be vulnerable. You're just vulnerable, accepted. And then when you do and you recognize in his situation for complex and unknowable, you have no choice but to be compassionate. Because if you decide to be competent, whatever it is that you do, you will be judged, and you will be judged harshly.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, I love this. Thank you. Okay, so you kind of touched on this in the beginning. But I would love for you to describe what you call this new language of leadership? And how does this have the potential to ignite a spark for both leaders, not just leaders, though, aspiring leaders, and even their teams, and people who are reporting to them? And you did touch on this, but I just want to go a little bit deeper on that.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, for sure. So the way that I get into it with superintendents, when I talk about it way that I hope we can get into it, when we launched this class is that we have to back up and recognize that there's only two types of decisions that come to my desk. And frankly, I think there's only two types of decision that comes to any leader staff. And when I say leader, I'm talking big broad stroke later on, like my personal definition for leadership and get into this a bit. But my personal definition of leadership is just it's an influence relationship. That's it. So anybody can be a leader. My expectation is teachers with some principals, and students, certain leaders and community members are leaders. And so just know that I'm talking about pretty much everyone. But in a leadership position, you only get two types of decisions. They're either complicated, or complex, complicated things have one right answer and one right way to do it. And that should be your trigger point to say, Oh, I'm in the world of transactional competence, hierarchies power, like all the rest of the stuff that I go through in the book is noted by the fact that you're dealing with something that's complicated, the opposite of complicated is complex, complex issues are inherently unknowable. You just can't know the answer to it. I've already alluded to some of them today, when's the best day to run a bond camp? What's the right amount to run a bond campaign? How much should we run a bond campaign for the list of complex questions is almost endless, right. And depending on what layer of the organization you happen to sit in, you may deal with more complex issues or more complicated issues doesn't really matter. I think it's just a function of the organization that you work for and position that you hold. But that notion that it's something is complex, should tell you, I need to be using transformational language at this point, which changes how you even approach the conversation with your community. Because if it's complicated, you're going to do some work and then present it to the community, as opposed to complex start with compassion. You can't start with an answer. If you start with an answer. You said to the community, I'm smarter than you are. I have some sort of privileged knowledge. And I'm asking you to subordinate your will, how horrible does it sound. But that's essentially what leaders are doing all the time we see it on TV, we see it from our national, political leaders, we see it from state leaders, we see it from local leaders, and I'm like, Man, what a missed opportunity. Because they trot out there and say, I need for you to subordinate your Well, I have some privilege for your reality that you don't have. And I'm like, how wildly offensive is that? And then everybody, you know, they pull that sidearm out of their holster, which is their cell phone, they immediately hop on Google, right? And they're searching these complex issues. And they're like, you might not be the smartest person in the room, Mr. or Mrs. Leader? How do you account for that. And so I just see it as just like, the single most important decision happens at that first moment when you recognize something as complicated or complex. And then that should dictate the language and the approach and the notions of power and the notion of hierarchies versus networks, and on and on and on and on all of that, to say that it's just incumbent on the leader to stop and think like, that's the hard part, because it's fast and furious for leadership all the time. And you just have to pause. So I hope for people who are sitting in leadership positions now to say, Oh, wow, this makes sense to me. I've seen places where it worked. I've seen places in my own past where it hasn't worked or failed. And like, I'd like to do better. I'd like to do, I'd like to have opportunities for new transformational work in a way that can be really meaningful and powerful. And for people who are aspiring into leadership positions, I hope that they say to themselves, Oh, this framework allows me to understand everything I've ever read about leadership, and all my preparation courses, but it also gives me some language that I can use that embraces the fact that we live in a digital world that's inherently complex and getting more complex and gives me some land which then allows me to be transformational as well.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah. And some of those leaders that we profile on the book, they might pop in on the course and share their experiences, and others, you know, to, they're going to all kind of share their ideas and thoughts and how this looks in real life for them, too.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, my secret hope is, you know, I know for a fact that there are other leaders who've been practicing their own language, like all the people we've featured in the book, or people who I've met somewhere along the way, or you've met some along the way who kind of develop their language around this. And so you know, so much of what I picked up on it, like taken from somebody else who like, oh, it sort of feels very tribal, right? Like, like, we're nomads out there. And we go meet this tribe of people who's doing this interesting thing with this leader, and I'm like, oh, that's some language I want to learn. And then you go meet a different tribe with a different leader and like your language. And so my point being, I think there's lots of leaders out here who have mastered bits and pieces of this language. And my hope is that we can start to bring more and more leaders like this together in a space where we can define it and map it even further. I mean, this is a first step like this really, truly is a first step to a conceptualization and potentially a reconceptualization, about how we talk about leadership.

Sarah Williamson:

Yep. Have you started at Quinton, I love it.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah. We did.

Sarah Williamson:

Okay, so you talk about leading from the middle, will you share more about what that means to you, and how others can apply it.

Quintin Shepherd:

Yeah, this actually goes all the way back to my teaching career, I think it was in preparation classes for either my principalship, or my superintendency. But I had a professor, this was like, long time ago. So please forgive the fact that it's actually going to be like a physical demonstration services, there's not computers and digital and whatever. But this teacher, professor of mine, he had his model, like a three dimensional is a pyramid. He had a pyramid, he was making a point in his lecture about broad community, and then the next layer that pyramid with parents and constituents, and then the next layer where, you know, teachers, and then he gets students in there somewhere, principals and the superintendent and he was making this like series of points about like, how does the information get to the superintendent and how does information get to the community. And then he was talking a little bit about power. And so it's really interesting, you know, kind of way of it was a good demonstration model. It was good demonstration model. But as I'm saying it, I'm sure you're like cringing and saying, totally transactional. Like, it's totally hierarchical. It's totally built on these power dynamics and everything else. But the word power, yeah. Right. But hopefully, you're visualizing this pyramid, because what comes next is really important. In my mind, I couldn't help but take that pyramid and turn it. So I was looking down on the pyramid, as like, Wouldn't it be better if the superintendent was in the middle, and like, principal leadership, or community leadership, and then teachers, and so on, and so forth, these concentric circles, just simply taking that pyramid, tipping it so you're looking on top? And I was like, there it is? You see, there it is. And here's why this matters, thinking and I've kind of developed it from there. It's what I call the cone in the queue. It's a dumb little visual trick, sometimes how you help people realize that multiple perspectives on the same issue. So let's say we're dealing with some issue, it's got a lot of contention in the community, and so on, and so forth. And let's say that I took a comb, and I put it inside a cardboard box, then it punched a hole in the top and I punched a hole in the side. Then if I asked you to look in from the side and tell me what you see, you'd say a triangle. And if I ask somebody else to look in on the top and tell me what they see, they'd say, a circle to comb, they're looking down on it, all they see is a circle. And so two people are looking at the exact same thing. Right, but from slightly different perspectives, and they're seeing something totally different. So here's the rub. They're both right, and they're both wrong. And that's what happens in leadership is that we're using transactional language when we shouldn't be using transformational language or vice versa. And we're confusing people along the way. We're asking them to judge us at times where judgment is the very last thing that we need. And it basically all came from this notion of leadership from the middle, and that there's multiple perspectives on how we view leadership.

Sarah Williamson:

Oh Quintin, so great to have you back. I'm so excited about the book. Thank you so much. And let's not wait a year before you coming back on the show. Love that!

Quintin Shepherd:

I think that's very smart.

Sarah Williamson:

That's it. Okay. All right. So listeners, be sure to grab your copy of The Secret to Transformational Leadership. It's now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. And we're also going to have a Compassionate Leader certification program. The course we're talking about launching later this spring, early summer, and you can sign up to receive updates about the course on our website, or check out our book at transformationalleadershipsecret.com. Quintin, thank you so much. I will talk with you soon and I'll see you at ASUGSB

Quintin Shepherd:

Sounds good, Sarah. Good to see you.

Sarah Williamson:

Bye. Thanks so much for tuning in today. If you enjoyed the show, if you wouldn't mind leaving a review, we'd be so grateful. This helps other listeners find and learn about our show. And please reach out if you're interested in learning more about how we can elevate The leaders of your organization with our PR services if you'd like to even shoot me a direct email at Sarah sarah@swpr-group.com. I look forward to hearing from you and we will see you next time.