At age 20, I graduated with my B.A. in English. At age 22, I graduated with my M.A. in Educational Counseling. Within a few months of graduating, I landed a position as a high school guidance counselor in a 2600-student school in inner-city Phoenix.
When we moved to Tucson, I was hired on as the lead and sole counselor at a brand new high school in a suburban district. Along with the administration and faculty, I helped to shape the program there.
After having my first baby, I resigned…but the principal invited me to stay on and bring my baby to work! I did so until my baby was eight months old and resigned again. This time, the Superintendent invited me to work from home in communications/PR. I agreed without hesitation.
Little did I know that I had just walked into a position working with one of the strongest leaders I have ever encountered. Superintendent Cal Baker’s humility, integrity, and innovation set him apart. He is courageous without being cocky, persuasive without being pushy, and straightforward while also being sincere.
Although there are many other lessons I have learned from observing and interacting with Cal, these 6 traits stick out to me as ones he excels at…and ones that I am aspiring to.
1. Ask questions. Cal is always asking questions. In fact, I would venture to say that he asks more questions than he says statements. He’s always dreaming above-and-beyond – thinking of new possibilities and solutions, pondering them aloud, wondering.
2. Be comfortable with uncomfortable silence. In leadership meetings, Cal doesn’t fill the air with chatter. He lingers in the quiet, thoughtful…coaxing others to do the same by example. If there isn’t anything to say, he doesn’t say anything. [Isn’t that a novel concept?]
3. Listen to learn. It is cliche to say that leaders should listen. In fact, most leaders probably say that they do it quite well. Unfortunately, most leaders listen to talk, meaning they take in the conversation…all the while, waiting for a chance to say the message that they are intending to say no matter what the speaker has to say. Calvin Baker is the opposite of that kind of leader. He wants to hear what people say. He waits for people to collect their thoughts. He is not too proud to change his mind.
4. Be less formal. Although highly intelligent and equipped with a killer vocabulary, Cal is casual in e-mail. He goes without fancy signatures and ostentatious titles. He sends concise messages that are to-the-point, signing with a simple dash and his initials. This unpretentiousness leads to approachability.
5. Be more formal. In dress. Cal’s signature style is slacks and a button-down shirt (plus a tie). His professional clothing sends a clear message of competence (all clothing sends messages, after all). I’m still figuring out what my wardrobe should be like in this freelance world of blogging.
6. Read frequently & Run frequently. Maybe both at the same time? Cal runs often, daily even. As he pounds the pavement, he listens to audio books – keeping tabs on the latest business, education, and sociological trends. His commitment to keep his mind and body active is nothing short of inspiring to all those in his company. In fact, I think almost his entire leadership time has followed suit – making mental & physical fitness a priority.
Have you worked for or with any particularly outstanding leaders? What set them apart?