The pressure to produce results quickly challenges leaders to stop and think about the people affected by every decision and action, seeing them through another’s eyes. Dr. Nancy Sulla, President at IDE Corp., believes that the most important characteristic that every leader should possess is empathy: the ability to put yourself into another’s situation and understand how they are affected by a situation. Having a very accessible personality and an innovative mind, people generally like being around Nancy. She keeps herself accessible to everyone in the organization by making sure that everyone in the organization has access to her. Nancy works hard to make sure she is rarely too busy to sit down and talk about work with the team. She says, “Culture is everything; create a positive one.”
Pushing people out of their comfort zone
The most important decisions Nancy has to make is how far to push people out of their comfort zones to realize new realities; this applies to clients, prospective clients, and employees. Nancy keeps a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in mind – “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Nancy believes their work is about ‘challenging yourself.’ Nancy works to keep the possibilities out front and keep her team focused on the tremendous impact they are having on children’s lives. This helps keeps her team and Nancy inspired to stay the course.
Innovative Designs for Education
IDE Corp. is a consulting firm focusing on innovating the teaching and learning process through their framework, the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. Growth is a balance between quality and quantity. Results matter, and that requires the right people. You can’t grow beyond capacity or you’ll compromise quality. IDE Corp. is continuously working on innovating their recruitment and training of consultants, so they can lessen the time it take to prepare consultants to work with clients, providing quality consulting. At the same time, they’re diversifying to offer various products and online professional development options, which will create both new revenue streams and make more people aware of their work.
Finding her Inspiration
Nancy was school phobic in kindergarten; the school district was going to have her repeat kindergarten. Her father had a job opportunity to move to Massachusetts, where kindergarten was not mandatory at the time, so he took it. Nancy spent her last months of kindergarten with a teacher who understood her and made her feel comfortable at school. This motivated Nancy to aspire to one day becoming a teacher and doing the same for other students.
As a middle school math teacher, Nancy found her struggling students complaining that math was boring. She invited them to devise a plan and agreed to teach them math through real-world problems. Nancy understood she had to rethink what a learning environment look like; hence, she designed the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom through her own career as a teacher. A lot of people were interested in what she was doing and Nancy realized that if she were going to make an impact on the world, she would need to share this model widely. So, Nancy began consulting for other districts.
According to Nancy, she “didn’t have any one role model that stands out; I admired and observed several key talents.” Her father taught her that there are no boundaries to what she can achieve, something she derives from everyday. Nancy took a break from teaching for a few years to pursue a career in computer programming and systems analysis. She worked for a woman who believed that she could accomplish anything. Here Nancy observed her strategic actions and learned from her.
Nancy is a great admirer of Steve Jobs. Nancy recalls, “When I started my company, I wanted to name it Next; but my attorney told me Steve Jobs filed for that name two weeks prior.” She considered that a sign that she was on the right track in her career.
Promoting her unique approach to Teaching
Prior to starting her own firm, Dr. Sulla taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and worked as a district level administrator. Her unique approach to instruction melds the best of what we know about teaching and learning to create classrooms that promote academic rigor, student engagement, and student responsibility for learning in a system-based, differentiated environment.
Based on Dr. Sulla’s model, The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, the conventional roles of students and teachers in classrooms is significantly shifting. She is the author of Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom and It’s Not What You Teach But How: 7 Insights for Making the CCSS Work for You. Her third book, Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement, is due out in the fall.
Keeping herself appraised with books and feedback
To keep themselves updated with the best practices and innovative ideas, all leaders need to assess their current knowledge and continually grow. Nancy reads books to reflect on her own knowledge and beliefs. She motivates her team to read a book monthly and discuss its impact on their work and on themselves as consultants. She adds, “I ask my team to weigh in on my performance.” Nancy also participates in Twitter chats to engage with other leaders to share and learn.
Advising the new leaders, Nancy says, “Yes, it’s nice that you got a promotion and you’ve ‘made it,’ but get over that quickly. It’s about serving others and helping them be all that they can be.”