Tribute to a real leader
In less than two weeks, my former superintendent, direct supervisor, and mentor will hang it up and turn in his keys jumping head first into retirement after serving the Shakopee, MN school district for 11 years. He took over the reigns in Shakopee after being the superintendent in Mora, MN and in Rush City, MN along with several years as a teacher, coach, and building administrator in other places. I will always think of Jon McBroom as a humble, authentic leader who spoke with the powerful authority of well-known and respected integrity and passion for doing what is right. Under his leadership I learned a great deal about controlling perceptions, the value of treating people right, and the hard knocks of just how much doing what is right can cost in the public arena. Jon has sacrificed incredibly on behalf of kids and his legacy will ring in the halls of Shakopee for many, many years to come.
Jon’s ability to control the perceptions of critical audiences is a graduate degree on its own. He often spouts phrases like “under promise and over deliver,” “it is what it is,” or “I don’t make a decision until I have to” to temper the expectations of those seeking some kind of blessing from him. He is the master of playing the “I’m just a farm kid from MN” card when working with a vendor on a contract for the district while in his head calculating a cost/profit analysis requiring a sophisticated spreadsheet for most of us. I will never forget one of the many construction meetings I attended with Jon while building Shakopee High School when he wove his way from “just a simple farm kid that ain’t too bright” to an intimidating 6 ft something executive in a tie that was absolutely raging mad about the bantering over costs for clay to be brought in that would line the drainage ponds. When it looked like the costs would land on the district, Jon (in his slow talking farm kid speech) recounted the work done to ensure clay was on site long before ground was broke for construction. Then the cheaters (the glasses he used for drama) came off, he stood – 6 foot something, and his voice started to boom as his face turned red. In a few short phrases he articulated how he had predicted the blankety blank people in the room would lack the integrity to stand by their work and had done a bit of covering his own bases to make sure someone was looking out for the public (it was in far more colorful language – these guys move dirt for a living…). Not only had he been carrying around clay samples in the trunk of his car for 6 months to prove it was indeed on site (yes, he grabbed those late in the night like a thief to prove his case), he had already worked out a deal with a different contractor to swap sand for clay saving everyone’s blankety blank rear end and putting to rest this childish argument… Ever seen a bunch of big, dirty, tough contractors intimidated by an executive in a tie that knows more about moving dirt than they do? McBroom’s authority comes from his honesty, his humility, his commitment to treating people right, and from doing his homework. Don’t let the “I attended a one room school-house and drove farm tractors” act fool you. He always does his homework.
Jon also taught me a great deal about the hard knocks. A key reality of leadership is having to make decisions based upon information that others don’t have – and can’t have. This means that others will judge leaders unfairly and reputations pay a significant price. Jon treats people fairly and his hard work to establish transparent, meaningful relationships illustrates how followers will trust the judgment of a leader in a tough situation when a solid reputation of honesty and trustworthiness has been established. I was part of and witnessed many situations in which Jon McBroom made difficult decisions for which he was unfairly judged, yet his overall legacy in Shakopee is one of honesty and transparency. I’ve never met a superintendent so well-loved by the teachers union and that’s not due to avoiding difficult situations. McBroom is loved and respected for his integrity and care for individuals matched only by his tenacity for taking on those doing what they shouldn’t. He has backbone and takes the heat – exactly what we expect from real leaders.
Jon’s words of wisdom for me when I left the principalship for an assistant superintendent position were – “know where the money is and be good to the help.” In other words, do your homework and treat people right. I didn’t need those words from Jon as he had taught me those principles long before he uttered those words. He is a leader who walks his talk and expects so little in return. His actions are steeped in humility, purpose, values, and above all, integrity. Jon’s leadership has impacted thousands of students in Minnesota and hundreds of educators who look up to his wisdom and deep-rooted character. His retirement will leave behind an impressive legacy for which I am honored to be a part of.
Jon – enjoy your grandchildren without the distractions of this work. You’ve certainly earned a very, very long vacation. I pray those of us in this highest of callings can continue, and build upon, what you’ve made happen over your lengthy and honorable career. But I’ll finally admit McBroom, you’ve set the standard high… Best wishes and take care.