Leadership Moments: Jim Mahoney

//Leadership Moments: Jim Mahoney

Leadership Moments: Jim Mahoney


There seems to be a certain stickiness to making three points in a presentation, argument, or yes, even in a blog. I’ve taken to using three verbs when speaking to groups or asking people to even describe themselves as leaders. And when you begin to look for three, you see it everywhere. Slogans. Mission statements. Advertisements. Why three? Because they can be memorable, sticky, and promote action.

Perhaps the best recent example I can offer comes from a friend of mine who is a school superintendent in Mississippi. He used three verbs in a short memo to outline to hundreds of staff their best collective approach to the current public health crisis. His three: CALM. CALCULATED. CONNECTED. Pretty good advice for all of us.

In his message, CALM outlined that encounters with each other should be filled with messages that they would be okay, get through this, and learn from the experience. CALCULATED referenced that as new situations and data appeared, they would make the necessary adjustments. Thoughtful application to what was happening on the ground. CONNECTED suggested that the entire district staff would be connecting in new ways virtually to keep an old value of positive relationships.

And while his message was indeed sticky, thoughtful, and targeted (three, of course) his next step made it all seem real and worth replicating. He modeled it. Leadership 101. You simply aren’t credible if you don’t do what you ask of others. He remains calm with others despite the hurdles and uncertainty in running a large school district with ever changing state mandates and federal guidelines. He’s led his staff to be calculated by feeding thousands of hungry kids from multiple locations, experimenting with technology, and assigning new roles for his senior staff to accommodate the unfolding crisis. And he’s staying connected virtually, honoring social distance, and connecting with people to offer both an honest assessment (uncertainty and fear are real but so is hope) and a reminder that love, yes love will guide them better together. This is the glue of their social contract with each other and to students they all serve.

Someone once said that there is nothing so irritating and illuminating as a real, powerful example. My friend Matt Dillon’s leadership illumination in southern Mississippi is instructive to all of us with this unprecedented challenge. CALM. CALCULATED. CONNECTED. Simple. Sound. Clear. Because someday when this crisis subsides, and it will, people will remember most how you led and made them feel. What three verbs will they use to describe you and your approach? Share, communicate, and most of all—- model.

Thank you for what you are doing to guide your organization and, by extension, our state to become better together.


By |2020-04-23T08:19:02-04:00March 27th, 2020|Leadership Moments|Comments Off on Leadership Moments: Jim Mahoney

About the Author:

A long time educator and entrepreneur, Jim Mahoney has dedicated his life to bettering educational opportunities for all students, serving as a superintendent, principal, and teacher, as well as an adjunct professor at several Ohio universities. In 2001, he joined Battelle for Kids as the organization’s first executive director. Under his leadership, the organization grew into a national not-for-profit and impacted more than 6 million students and more than 400,000 educators nationwide. Today, Jim serves as an executive in residence for the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University and as educator in residence for Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA).