9 Success Principles From A 40-Year Veteran


A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

After 28 years as a public-school teacher, Bob Wood reluctantly left the classroom and took the helm of his elementary school. During his 10-year tenure as Principal, his team was awarded the White House’s National Blue Ribbon, a distinction granted to the top 0.3% of all elementary schools nationwide. Under Bob’s leadership, his school was also named a Distinguished School by the California Department of Education, earning an unprecedented score of 10 out of 10.

As noted in You’re Never Too Old (Or Too Successful) For A Mentor, Bob is my mentor and friend. Thus, I was honored when he agreed to share his insights regarding the fundamentals of success with my UC Santa Barbara entrepreneurial students.

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You can watch a 7-minute excerpt from Bob’s talk here.

Bob Wood’s Nine Fundamentals of Success

Drawing upon his nearly 40-years as a public servant, Bob distilled his formula for leadership success into the following fundamentals.

  1. Communicate Authentic Core Values

Successful leaders must constantly communicate the core values which underlie their organization’s vision. In turn, the leader’s vision and actions must also be congruent with these values. If done effectively, these organizational values will become the foundation upon which the company’s corporate culture is maintained.

  1. Demand Customer Centricity

The challenges of a public school Principal are akin to that of a CEO, with the added handicap that it is nearly impossible to terminate poor performers. Like a CEO, Principals must collaborate and cajole their various stakeholders, which include teachers, parents, students, staff and administrators.

Bob successfully managed his constituents by never forgetting that his ultimate “customers” were the students he was serving. He resolved numerous conflicts by reminding his stakeholders of their shared commitment to provide the students’ with an optimal education. Startup CEOs can likewise diffuse internal dissention by refocusing their team’s attention on their customers, rather than their colleagues.

  1. Display Total Commitment

Effective leaders demonstrate with their words and their actions that they are “all in.” Without compromise, they apply all of their efforts to the organization’s success and they demand a similar level of dedication from their key team members.

  1. Be Of Service

Successful leaders do not give orders. Instead, they help those around them attain their goals, knowing that this approach will ultimately lead to the team’s overall success. As Bob notes, “I was in service to everyone… if a (light) bulb needed changing in a classroom…I got a ladder and changed it.”

  1. Be Transparent

Acting with transparency goes beyond giving your stakeholders visibility into the decision making process. In Bob’s words, “You have to be who you are on the inside and on the outside. “You have to be on the inside who you are on the outside. Everything has to be congruent. What you say and what you do has to fit who you are it. You can’t fake it.”

  1. Create A Path

Great leaders create a pathway devoid of obstacles that could impede their team’s progress. This path guides the organization and keeps it moving in an optimal direction. Per Bob, “When things are static, that’s when things start to fail. I created a wake (for my team to ride.)” Channeling Daoist philosophers, Bob implored my students, “Whatever you do, don’t wobble.”

  1. Borrow Best Practices

Bob also reminded the students of Picasso’s definition of a great artist, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Stellar leaders create a culture which encourages employees to experiment and seek a “better way,” rather than dogmatically adhering to solutions that worked in the past.

  1. Hire Well

Recruiting the right team members is a leader’s most important responsibility. As Bob notes, “Hire people who reflect the (organization’s) core values and who can grow.” This often requires you to “subsume your ego” and hire individuals who are more talented than yourself.

At a startup, shared values and vision are cornerstones of an effective strategic plan. If your team does not internalize these principles, the lack of accord will guarantee your venture’s failure. Harmony is easier to maintain once you hire people with the right aptitude and the right attitude.

  1. Don’t Hold The Bus

No matter how carefully you recruit your team, some people will be unable to evolve as your company grows and addresses new challenges. As Bob notes, although it is painful, successful leaders must “…leave some people behind.”

It is never easy to sever ties with an employee, even those which are not excelling. However, successful organizations seldom have the luxury to throttle back their growth to accommodate struggling employees.

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John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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