Laurence Spring is an advocate for understanding how organizations can set goals for change and actually achieve those goals. One need look no further than Mr. Spring’s life and career to see that he exemplifies that which he teaches.
After teaching school in the early part of his career, Spring received his Master’s of Science in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Rochester in 1998 and ascended to the heights of the education profession by serving as superintendent of schools, first as an Assistant Superintendent in the Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center, New York, then as Superintendent of schools in Cortland, NY, and Schenectady, NY. In all, he served as Superintendent for 19 years, and during that time he obtained his Doctor of Education from Manhattanville College School of Education.
Mr. Spring has retired from serving in the public school system to start his own consulting firm to develop and promote a groundbreaking piece of software meant to measure the capacity of an organization to achieve change from within.
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I love that every context is different. Every organization needs to be assessed and looked at as its own kind of independent situation. There is no cookie cutter solution, and every situation must be diagnosed and figured out unto itself. That means that every job I take on is interesting and new. The work requires creative thinking, self-evaluation, and questioning of assumptions. There is no way to just walk in and plug and play in doing this work. The minute you walk in thinking you know what the problem is going to be and how to fix it, you get smacked in the face by the reality that tells you that was very much not the problem.
What keeps you motivated?
I am driven by the notion that there is more to learn. Some would say I read voraciously. I am fascinated by how much has been written and how many different perspectives exist on these subjects. You only have so much time here on this earth and that really drives me to try to learn as much as I can as I move along. I hate when there are things that I don’t know.
How do you motivate others?
Motivation is a really interesting kind of thing and I think a lot of people misunderstand the notion of how organizations work. They think that all you have to do to motivate someone is to pay them more money. If you really want to get people more engaged and motivated, it means getting them to have more say and more involvement in not just doing the work, but in helping to decide the nature of the work.
We think about this notion of change overload. Part of diagnosing it is to engage people in a conversation about how they feel about that work. The nature of that dialogue all by itself is helping to motivate people. When you’re engaging employees in a dialogue that says “What should we be doing? How should we be doing it? What’s important to you as we think about what our next steps are?”, you’re increasing their agency in the organization which is increasing their commitment and desire to do that work. Motivation is really about sharing power and distributing leadership amongst more staff.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
There really are a ton of them. I was a history major in college and I’m a big fan of John F. Kennedy. I also have a vast collection of works and quotes by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. I studied the Civil War and the prelude to that quite a bit so my role models really have been either abstract political figures or a bit more highly personal, like my mother. She has been a role model for me as well, showing me that it’s possible to get a doctorate and showing me that you can be a great leader and be highly personable and compassionate with people as well.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
There are a couple of things that I do. I start every day off with some exercise. It’s important to me. Also, I make a point of sharing meals with my family. My girls are in school so it’s not always easy to have breakfast together, but I enjoy cooking and I make dinner almost every night. We eat together and engage in all of those kinds of activities as a family – the planning, shopping, cooking, and eating. We find it to be refreshing and rejuvenating for everyone.
What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?
First, think about what you’re passionate about. Whether you’re in education or looking to be a consultant, or whatever it may be, do the thinking about what you really care about. What really gets you fired up, and how does that get in to the work that you’re trying to do?
The second piece is finding people that you can learn from in the realm you want to work in, then sitting at their elbow, shadowing them, talking to them, and finding out what they have to share. What lessons have they learned, and how do they approach things? Expose yourself to the mental models of the experts in that line of work.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
I recently got my doctorate. It may be the bias of primacy, but that feels like a really significant accomplishment for me. It’s something that I’ve been working towards for about two decades. It’s been the culmination of a good portion of my life’s work.
What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?
It took me a long time to learn that I can’t please everyone. It’s enough for me to make good decisions, to have integrity and to be at peace with my decisions even when some people might not be pleased about them. Once I realized that my worth is not related to how happy I am making others, it became much easier to be effective.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
My role as a dad. I’ve got two daughters that are 13 and 15 years old. I think that they are the most amazing human beings ever, and I would like to think that I played a role in them becoming that.