What is impactful leadership? According to Dr. Janet Pilcher and returning guest, Dr. Pat Greco, it’s all about making a difference, having a clear purpose, and creating meaningful and positive experiences for those they lead and serve. Listen now to hear part one of Janet and Pat’s conversation about their key learnings over the past year, what it means to be a level ten leader, and lessons from the classroom they’ll never forget.

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Episode Transcript

Pat Greco: So there’s a part of us that it’s part of our makeup of what do we bring to the table in the work that we’re going to do? Are we leaning in? Are we staying curious? Are we committed to growing our own skills?

[Intro music plays in background]


Mary Stackhouse-Consoli: Hey everyone, welcome to the Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m Mary Stackhouse-Consoli, and I’m a producer of the show.

Today I want to welcome you to part one of a two-part conversation between our host and managing director of Studer Education, Dr. Janet Pilcher and Senior Director of Thought Leadership, Dr. Pat Greco. Excited to have Pat back on our show.

Pat’s worked in public education for 38 years. She retired as an award-winning superintendent at the School District of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Ever since, Pat’s been coaching school districts and organizations in improvement practices.

Her latest article on increasing teacher and staff retention was published in May’s issue of The School Superintendent’s Association School Administrator Magazine. You can find a direct link to it in the show resources.

Today’s a special episode. Janet and Pat will reflect on their key learnings over the past year of coaching. They’re going to talk about what level 10 leadership looks like, and they’ll discuss how the lessons they learned as teachers still influence how they lead today. Let’s dive in.


Janet Pilcher: Pat, it’s great to have you with us today and great to have you on the show.

Pat Greco: Always a pleasure, Janet, thank you. Thanks for the invitation.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely. It’s so good to take this time in the summer, and I see you’re at home—

Pat Greco: I am.

Janet Pilcher: —which is probably the place to be. And know that you love the summertime with your family. So I hope you’re getting an opportunity to enjoy some time with them.

Pat Greco: I do. And Milwaukee, you know, in June, July and August is the best weather. So we’re enjoying the time together and enjoying, you know, just having a little bit of downtime.

Janet Pilcher: That’s great. So, you know, as we think about our time in the summer, one of the things I know you do, I do it as well when we work with our partner organizations and leaders, ask them to do a little reflection over the last year.

So, just would love for us to reflect on our year, reflect on our year together, and just kind of have a good conversation about what we’ve learned and what we continue to learn and what’s really influenced us over the years.

So let’s start, Pat, let’s start with thinking about this past year. And I’d just like for us to have just a good casual conversation with each other like we normally do. But just as you think about this past year and think about what you’ve learned in the field, what are some of the major areas of focus for you and your conversations?


Pat Greco: It’s been a fun year, Janet, because I have a number of partners that are actually in, as we think about the work that they’re doing, you know, it’s always exciting to work with brand new partners who are just starting, who are trying to tease through it.

It’s equally exciting to work with the ones that are really getting mature, you know, and with their leadership team, getting deep in the work, you know, having the opportunity to sit with, you know, 50, 60 leaders really thinking reflectively about what they’re learning and the improvements they’re making, you know, the challenges they’re facing.

But really, one of the pieces that, had an opportunity with the team, you know, just two weeks ago, and one of the leaders said, “if we can solve for aid billing, we can solve for anything.” You know, so it was almost that realization that there’s really almost no challenge they can’t tackle when they’re actually getting deep into the conversations together.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, you and I both are starting to work with some mature partners, leaders who have been in the work for a while, and growing, you know, in their work, growing in maturity.

You know, as many people know, most of my partner work and coaching work is with higher education institutions. And so this this last year, I don’t know if you found this or not, Pat, but, you know, this last year, we have talked more about executive team level leadership than we ever have.

Pat Greco: Mmmhmm.

Janet Pilcher: And going into the sessions and conversations this summer with the executive teams, one of the major conversation across most of the partners that I’m working with and leaders is really focusing on what does level 10 leadership look like, not just level 10 leadership in general. But when you’re going through transitions, when you’re trying to build a bridge to the future, when you’re looking at external factors that are coming in, there’s a need to really look at how we develop ourselves as leaders and how we adapt to those changes and adapt our leadership skills to those changes and mature, continue to mature. There’s never a level of maturity. I don’t know if you’re experiencing that or not, but that’s been a major theme of our conversations in the work that I’ve done.

Pat Greco: Yeah. And I think one of the things, Janet, as you think about the, when you’re, when you’re working with any team, any team can improve, you know, with a strong leader. Any individual team can improve with a strong leader. An organization can only improve if the system leadership, that executive cabinet, is working well together, not as, as individual silos, but really working together as a coherent team.

And they’re aligned in that effort. That’s where organizations get stuck because if they’re, you know, they’re only leading as individual solo fighter pilots, they can’t move the system together in a coherent way. So that mature level 10 leadership, that ability to have that shared vision around the work that they want to accomplish and what’s most important to improve is really key.

And to be able to grow that capability within their teams so that, you know, I affectionately say “many hands make a light lift,” you know, but the, you know, the ability to grow that capability and that alignment also ends up being key.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And that “grow” word is so important, I think, when I listen to you, Pat, because sometimes the other, the difficult part of learning is sometimes you have a team member who’s been pretty good for a while, but that the changes in the landscape of what you have to accomplish and the leveling up of those skills, you know, you begin to see gaps in people who have typically been pretty good.

And so it’s asking the question, “can we help that person move to that next level? Or has that person reached capacity in the way that, you know, that person exists in the world, right?” You know, and that’s the, I think that from a senior leadership standpoint, and let’s go back just thinking about your experience as a leader, when you see your partner leaders experience that, but you’ve experienced it as well, what responsibility do we have, you know, to manage to that?

Pat Greco: Janet, that’s one of the things that, you know, and you and I have known each other for a really long time. And that’s one of the areas of, you know, when we think about growing leadership, you know, and we think about building the capabilities of the team, that greatest gift is the capability of the executive leaders and their leaders to get really tight in their feedback systems.

And when I say that, I’m really not talking about a March 15th eval. I’m really thinking about that daily, weekly feedback aligned to the work that we need to get done, that highest priority work, how they’re able to scaffold that feedback, both in a nurture and in a stretch way of how are they actually keeping their teams aligned, you know, and, and in doing that, they’re growing the capability of their teams and they’re really aligning the capability and building the capacity of the individuals.

If I’m sharing feedback with someone, obviously, we typically talk about will or skill. If it’s a skill piece, you know, it’s really that feedback of where do you need support and getting really close to the people who are doing the work so that you can provide that targeted support.

If it’s a will piece, you know, it’s really that living to your core values, are we really attending to the work that’s most important? And do we know what that is?

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Pat Greco: You know, and are we, are we being clear with what’s most important to tackle and really working in the most effective, efficient way in order to have the teams working together and not working on what’s nice to do, but not necessarily what’s necessary to do.

So, those feedback loops are really critical. And when you think about feedback as being a gift, the greatest gift is to grow your team members and to be able to have, you know, that ability for them to see themselves as capable and aligned and purposeful rather than just doing tasks.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Let’s go back a little bit. Both of us got started in this work, you know, so, and we started our leadership journey and we share in the work of executing to what we work with our partners to do each and every day. So talk a little bit, Pat. Let’s talk a little bit about how we got started. So how did, you know, how did you start in this work?

Pat Greco: And Janet, one of the things that I often think about when you start in education, I was always passionate about being a teacher. And that was the area that I started in special education and literacy and really, you know, my passion was really pouring into how do we make a difference with students.

When you’re really attending to continuing to grow, I think there’s an element of us that was always the same. I worked really hard in the classroom. I worked really hard as an assistant principal. I worked really hard as a principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent.

So there’s a part of us that it’s part of our makeup of what do we bring to the table in the work that we’re going to do? Are we leaning in? Are we staying curious? Are we committed to growing our own skills? And there’s a part of that leadership maturity that every time you take a step, it’s that reflection. And you learn a lot from your errors over time.

And wisdom isn’t just an age thing. It’s really how do you actually make conditions better, have an impact with others? You know, and that trajectory really helped me. And moving into the improvement work, it was really how do we actually have impact and not just do the job?

You know, so everyone does the job, but how do you actually have impact in doing the job where students improve, team members feel engaged, you know, leaders feel like they’re making a difference, board members are proud, you know, the community is proud of the efforts that you’re doing? That’s really that definition of impact and students feel part of something bigger than just going to school. You know, because they know that people are pouring into them and then they see that ability to pour into themselves.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. You know, and you’ve always had to me such a great way of thinking about how you entered the world and the stretch that goes through that. You know, I don’t think I was as mature as you were in my thought [laughs] back then.

You know, because, because I think some people come into the profession and then they come in with such a passion for teaching, and most of the people do. And you know, when I go back to it, you hear my story, you know, I came in to be a tennis coach, right? You know, teaching was kind of secondary. But then one of the transformational points in my life, I tell that story of the time was when I realized I was really teaching on the tennis court. And if I take those practices about goals and practicing and feedback and positive, you know, working off the bright spots and then looking at where we could build improvements and making those shorts improvements.

If I look at what was just part of my DNA at the time, taking that back to the classroom and then building that through my leadership practice throughout these years. You know, that that’s that to me, that’s where it started. It starts from, from me. it started with being an athlete. It started from just the way I grew up and functioned in the world and what my passion was and just transferring that into leadership all these years.

So as we think about what we’re teaching and what we’re practicing, it’s part of what we live every day in order to be at our best.

Pat Greco: Right.

Janet Pilcher: I don’t know if I’m making sense there, but it just becomes part of our DNA in terms of how we exist in the world. Yeah.

Pat Greco: And, and part of it, Janet. The people that are the most passionate actually see that line of sight to the impact that they’re making. And as you indicated, you saw that in your coaching, you know, and kids often, when they’re going to school, they feel it everywhere other than in the classroom.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so true.

Pat Greco: Yeah, they feel it in the clubs they participate, in the plays they participate, in the arts, in the music, in the, yeah, they feel it in every area of their day. Some kids. You know, obviously some kids, that isn’t the case for them either.

But, you know, as we think about that, that’s the feeling that we really want them to have so that they can find that line of sight, not just, you know, in part of their day. But really in their whole day and to know that, you know, the work of the system is to make it really positive for them, you know, regardless of what their passions are.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. I mean, so good to, it just to, sometimes we get caught up in the work and what we’re doing like what you said, but just really thinking about, you know, what are we intending to do and just make a natural part of what we do.

You know, as we continue to think back and reflect on just our lives and where we are now and how we’ve grown up in this field of education, what’s one of the most memorable moments you’ve had as a leader over the past 30 years, Pat?

Pat Greco: Well, part of it is also personal, Janet, because I had the gift of having my own children in the system, you know, that I led over the course of, you know, a long period of time. You know, so when you think about the purpose and the difference that you want to make for children, I really had the gift of seeing it through their eyes.

You know, on the days that were really good, I could see the work of the system really tending to their needs. And on the days that were struggling, you know, that they were struggling, I could see the work of the system tending to their needs.

You know, so I’ve seen some of the best educators really at work through the eyes of my children. You know, and, you know, one of the days that I remember most is I had the opportunity to give my own daughter her diploma as she was coming across the stage. You know, so it’s really when, you know, that first day of school, when you’re putting them on the bus and you’re hoping the day goes well. And that last day when they’re 18 and they’re crossing the stage and you’re hoping that transition goes well.

Some of the best moments I’ve had is actually being able to see the work of the system through the eyes of the kids and to see the dedication, you know, from leaders to support team members to classroom teachers to really the people who are passionate about the work they do every day. And those tender moments, and I got to see it through their eyes, and I knew the work of the system was really taking hold.

The other piece, and this is, you know, you were part of this as we were working in Menomonee Falls. My daughters participated in our onboarding program with Menomonee Falls because both of them were going into the therapies. You know, so they participated, even though they weren’t employed in Menomonee Falls, I had them go through the new teacher orientation because we were going through the PDSA cycle.

My one daughter went into healthcare, so that was an easy bridge. The healthcare organization they work with also works with the employee surveys. She helped with the rollout process as she was joining the team, became a team leader. You know, because she saw that line of sight with the improvement processes really at work in the healthcare organization she was working with.

And my other daughter went into speech therapy in a school district that also is working with the improvement cycles to the classroom level.

So some of those greatest moments were as they were going through K-12, but also professionally as they were building that bridge to really see the impact of the work that we’re having.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, it’s interesting, and how great for your daughters and how great for you, you know, to be able to see them progress through life and then now to continue to see their successes, Pat.

You know, and I think what hit me too when you first started is when we asked about this was really, this is really hard to answer in so many ways. And, you know, I’m waiting for a kind of this, this life changing moment to happen and I’m like, “I don’t have any.” [laughs]

I mean, it’s not, it’s not like that. And what my mind kept going to is a little bit of the inside out there and it went to people who made life for me memorable, right, in the educational path. And so it was those, there were many, probably before this, but in order for the in the journey that I had now, it was that one professor who saw talent, a particular talent in me that sent me to Florida State to say, “you need to get your doctoral degree.”

It’s that one professor who picked me up there who said, “you have talent. I’m going to give you a graduate assistantship. We want you to come here.” It’s when I came back and started, giving that opportunity to be at the university. it’s that Dean at that time that within my first two years came to me and said, “I see talent in you as a leader. I’d like you to take on this role.” You know, that eventually led to me being the Dean of the college.

And then it was that one day as I was really learning how to be a leader and continuing to really love that aspect of life and profession, my passion. You know, when I sat in the session, Take You and Your Organization and listened to Quint Studer and I just, it pulled my heartstring. You know, that’s what pulled my heart string.

When my heart string got, was pulled, it just changed the trajectory of my life. You know, which moved me into “I want to I want to make that type of difference. I want to make that type of difference” in the way that Quint was doing in health care and what we could do in education and had that opportunity to do that.

And so, you know, I thought about it’s all those teachers who had a great hand in touching my life that made my life memorable in a way that I could do what I am doing today.

Pat Greco: And often, often, Janet, as we talked with leaders about leaders that were most memorable for them, they reflect on just what you’re reflecting on. It’s the people that see something in them that they don’t necessarily see in themselves and are really asking them to lean in a little bit deeper.

So it really isn’t about relieving any obligation. It’s really helping people lean in in a meaningful way. Yeah, because that really gives purpose to the day and the work that we do.

Janet Pilcher: It does. It does. And when we say at the center of our flywheel, “purpose, worthwhile work, and making a difference,” you know, every day, the work that we do. I mean, when I say that, I deeply feel that because of those experiences and because of hopefully what we’re able to see when we’re engaging with people that we work with out in the field every day. I mean, those are now very memorable moments.

You know, those I could go in and, you know, just when Brendan Kelly was selected to be the, you know, the president of the Arkansas State University System. I mean, I just the pride and the feeling that comes from that from just being that partner in that process with him. There’s nothing better, right? There’s nothing better than that.

Pat Greco: And you’re really, you’re really growing leaders. You know, that’s one of the things that often, you know, people say, well, if we develop our team, they’re going to have the capability of leaving us. The reality of it is, is you’re really growing the field and you’ll have the capability of hiring excellent people because they know that you’re willing to invest in them.

You know, so the, you know, that ability to grow people, there’s nothing better than that, which actually goes right back to the earlier part of our conversation, which, at its core, is teaching.

Janet Pilcher: It is. And it’s, it’s what’s inside of us and, and so many of those we work with.


[Outro music plays in the background.]

Mary Stackhouse-Consoli: Thank you for listening today as Janet and Pat discussed their major takeaways, you can hear how gratifying it is to see the people you grow and coach be successful.

Please join us next week for part two of the conversation where they will dig even deeper and talk about the toughest moments in their careers and how they stay true to their values along the way. Have a great week, everyone.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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