Many leaders talk about having an open-door policy, but Doug Jennings lives it. The double doors of Jennings’ office at Park Tudor School open into a large hallway accessible to students, teachers, administrative staff and anyone else who might need to speak with Jennings, who is head of Park Tudor School, a $26.5 million, 1,000-student independent college preparatory school. Jennings keeps his doors open as often as possible and encourages people to stop in and share their ideas about what is going on at the school. He believes that interaction and collaboration are two of the most powerful tools that any leader needs to take his or her organization to the next level. Smart Business spoke with Jennings about why he plants the seeds of ideas in people, then sees how they grow.
Get out of your office. Getting people involved has a lot to do with managing by walking around, so each morning, I’m trying to see the campus, stop and talk to people, listen to them, show genuine interest in what is going on.
I have literally an open-door policy. The double doors of my office open into a hallway, so kids, faculty members, whomever, are welcome to stop in and talk. I try to put down what I’m doing if I can and show that I care about them and am happy to talk with them.
I think the other way would be collaborative, and I know that can be kind of an overused term, but in a school, you have to involve everyone that you can with buying in to decisions. We work a lot with committees, parent organizations, student council, all sorts of things to try to reach a mutually accepted decision.
Bring people together. It’s my job as the head. I need to keep reading and keep up with the research and talk to people in the industry so I’ll come up with some new ideas or find some visionary things that are being done out there.
My method is usually to talk to individuals first and sort of plant some seeds, see how they grow, then bring them to the committee level and eventually bring them to the all-school level. But I’d never come in and just impose an idea, even if I thought it was a great idea. I would like to plant the seeds and see if there is interest in the people.
The best ideas are really the ideas people came up with themselves, and I try to engender that. Collaboration is usually the best approach because of buy-in. If people are part of the decision-making, they are going to be part of the implementation or at least have a much stronger stake in making something work.
If the boss comes in and says, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ if it works, it’s his credit, if it doesn’t work, it’s his fault. It’s just not the same buy-in that you get with collaboration.
It usually takes me at least two meetings to get that level of buy-in. One is sort of the introduction, the listening, the airing of it. Then I usually tell people to go away, do some homework, think about it, talk it over, go on the Internet, whatever, and we’ll meet again in a week or two weeks. As much as I like to do things quickly, going more slowly gets more buy-in and gets people to add to the original idea.
Remember the importance of communication.
Remember your mission and core customers. So for me, that’s kids. My core business is kids, so I have to remember a lot of my communication is to kids as young as kindergartners.
I have to make sure I relate to them, that I know what they’re doing. I think you try to communicate on an appropriate level to everyone in your organization. You don’t just have one style or one level of communication because that won’t reach everybody.
Someone told me it’s all about communication, especially as a leader. People are always watching and listening to what you are doing. To be an effective communicator, listening is extremely important. I use electronic media a lot, e-mail, but that is no substitute for a face-to-face talk. I like to write, so I’ll write something for our school magazine or for our weekly newsletter.
It’s important to see, particularly in a school, that the head teacher is a pretty good writer, so I try to keep my writing skills up to snuff. And speaking, there are always opportunities to speak to groups. I take them seriously, even though I try not to give very formal speeches.
Attract people who want to be involved. I look for people who are eager to grow, eager to listen to other people. We look for expertise, but we really want them to become part of a team. We don’t want them to come in and just import a set of skills.
We want them to get a feel for the Park Tudor culture, bring some new ideas, but work within that culture. It’s a balance of a strong personal ego but also a willingness to change and grow and listen to other people.
The key to attracting and keeping good people is just making it a darn good place to work. We work hard, but we have very good working conditions, good compensation and benefits packages; it’s just a nice place to work, right down to the lunch that we serve. When I bring someone in from another part of the country and they get a feel for the place, I want to make it so they want to work here.
HOW TO REACH: Park Tudor School, (317) 415-2700 or www.parktudor.org