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Tips From The Top: One On One With John McAuliffe

I spoke to John McAuliffe, CEO of Sylvan Learning, about his journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people? 

John: There are two things people may find surprising. The first is that my wife and I are the parents of seven children, including one who has Down Syndrome, who has taught us an enormous amount about what is most important in life. The second is that I was an avid runner, who at one point was part of a world record 100 by 1-mile relay team. 

Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth? 

John: While I started in the financial area, I soon migrated to the operations side which allowed me to understand how businesses work from all ends. I have found the most challenging times have been during economic downturns, where it takes extreme effort and creativity to navigate these difficult situations. Once you have gone through one of these situations that required you to make decisions that impact peoples lives, you work hard to put your company in a position to handle these economic downturns as to minimize employee impact going forward. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

John: It sounds like a cliché but surrounding yourself with the best people and giving them the tools to succeed are critical. Beyond that, you must have the ability to communicate the vision and strategy of the organization, such that people feel energized by that vision and they understand where they fit into the vision. Last, I feel it is also critical that all parts of the organization and leadership feel they are part of a team who has the same end goals. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

John: The first tip I have is to know your space, be educated on the landscape in which your business operates as it will make you a better decision maker. The second tip is to be a positive leader. People feed off the energy and attitude that you have. The third, is to communicate often with your people and make that communication two way so you know what is happening on the front lines. 

Adam: What are your best tips for entrepreneurs and leaders in the education space? 

John: For leaders in the education experience, I think it is critical that you have a passion for helping children succeed academically and in life. That must be the end goal for any company or leader in this space to succeed. If you only care about content or only care about technology, I do not believe you can be totally successful in the education arena. It must be about the outcomes. 

Adam: What are your best tips for educators? 

John: My best tip for educators is to never lose track of the reason you entered the education world, the passion you had. Teachers and educators are the people critical to a child learning. They drive the motivation to learn, the confidence to learn and the willingness to learn in a child. The child feeds off the educator and it can be unbelievably rewarding when you can make such a dramatic impact on a child’s life. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

John: The best advice I have ever received is probably around doing something you are passionate about, that can get you motivated every day to get to work and make a difference. 

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

John: In the education world we are always paying it forward because we are positively impacting children every day. I also feel everyone gets tremendous internal gratification from doing positive things for society, so I recommend that people get involved in efforts that help those less fortunate around you. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

John: I have been a runner since my high school days and the discipline that is required to train and improve over time has been critical in how I think and go about things. Dramatic change and improvement do not happen overnight. It takes time and commitment.

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