Money can’t buy happiness. This has been proven in multiple reliable studies. Even people who win millions of dollars in the lottery report that their true level of happiness has not increased.

And money can’t buy a good leader.

Often, people get promoted due to seniority or because the decision-maker(s) like the person. You would be amazed at how many key people get promoted not because they are qualified or have the required track record of success, but because they are nice people. Well, maybe you wouldn’t be because it’s a common blunder in both the private and public sector and you probably know someone who rose to their level of incompetence.

Privately, I know of a business in which one of the key people was promoted to a top slot because they needed someone and she was a nice person. She wasn’t qualified for the position and years later, she is still underperforming.

Publicly, I know of a government section (not education) in which the top guy is just flat out incompetent. The people who work for him do not respect him and he is making a mess of everything. He got the job because he had seniority and he’s been screwing up for several years.

Some people grow into their jobs. They learn how to do all the meaningless administrative stuff and they get their work in on time, but they never become leaders. That’s because the crucial qualities that make up an excellent leader cannot be bought regardless of how much money you throw at someone. It’s like those lottery winners who aren’t any happier: Giving someone a raise and/or a promotion does not automatically make them a better employee.

I believe in the philosophy of servant leadership and it served me well – very well – during the years I was managing people. You can read about servant leadership by clicking here, but in a nutshell, as I adopted it, my goal as a leader was to do whatever it took to make my staff the best they could possibly be, both in the office and in their community. My job as a servant leader was to give them the tools and the support they needed to achieve that goal. I had to set the right example, too.

I would tell each member of my staff that their current position was not the last job they would ever have and that it was their responsibility to grow as much as possible while they were there. Contrary to some business philosophies, I did not want people around for more than about five years. I wasn’t going to fire anyone who was still performing after five years, but rather, I wanted to make them become so good that another firm would steal them, or they would get promoted out of the departments I oversaw, or they would find a new job that was the next rung on their career ladder.

They got personal and professional growth and in return, I got rabid employees – people who were excited about their jobs. They also knew that as their leader I understood that everything that happened in those departments, ultimately, was my responsibility. “Share the credit and take the blame,” was my mantra.

I also got new staff – people who brought new skills, insights, and ways of doing things. They also came in at lower salaries so I got the best of all worlds. That’s one of two major challenges with long-term employees. The first is complacency, which always becomes an issue after several years. The second is rising staff costs. As people stay, the law of diminishing returns takes over and we pay more money for less production.

Some leaders like to lead by creating an atmosphere of fear. I’ve experienced that and have never seen a situation in which it created a healthy, productive work environment – the result was always a backstabbing, gossipy, toxic environment of unproductive, unhappy people.

At his budget presentation last month, Deputy Supt. Paul Reed concluded with a slide that show the people who helped him. That was good – a touch of leadership.

I mentioned a few posts ago that you are paying up to $27,000 for former super Robert Barbot to provide on-the-job training for current super Fred Navarro. Though we should have serious questions about why the board hired someone who was not ready to hit the ground running, the decision was made and that’s that.

But by now, after three years, they should have a clear idea of who they hired. And I will guess that the super they see is not the one I see. I see someone who may be good at administrative matters, but who lacks the fundamental qualities of a good leader. (I’ve previously listed my qualities for a good leader.) My conclusion is that he was hired and will continue to get the automatic contract renewals because just like most hiring and promotion decisions, the board likes him.

Money can’t buy excellent leadership. But in this case, it’s not the board’s money, it’s yours.

Steve Smith

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