Myth-Busting Leadership

For me, there’s nothing better than investigating the roots and realities to the myths we hold to closely.  While, I am sure I will get emails to contradict me, here are some myths that have been busted over the years:

  • Humans only use 10% of their brain;
  • Swimming within 30 minutes after eating leads to cramping or drowning;
  • It takes 7 years to digest a piece of swallowed gum;
  • Seasons are caused by the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

While these myths may not severely impact my life as a person or a leader, I did stumble across a myth years ago that transformed my philosophy of leadership and my outlook in how I approach positive change today.

In his book The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Schools (2006), Doug Reeves shared the notion of the “Myth of Linearity”.  While not as absurd as some myths we hear today, the myth of linearity is a fallacious belief that incremental levels of implementation towards a change system yields incremental results.

It made sense to me.  The greater the level of implement, the higher the yield of return.  For example, if 4 teachers in a math department of 10 implement an initiative, it is certainly better than 2, right?

Drawing a leadership philosophy from this myth meant that I, as a leader, foraged ahead with whomever I could bring along the journey.  My goal in working with our building and district staff was to concentrate on providing the information and monitoring the results, and not focus as much on the implementation aspects of the strategy or concept.

Through his research, Reeves debunked this myth with the “Non-Linear Path of School Improvement.  The actual reality is that true change does not occur until at least 90% is achieved in the level of implementation.  Until then, it just flatlines.

How does this new-found fact change your leadership outlook and philosophy in driving change?  

Too often, we are focused on starting a new initiative at a morning inservice.  We give everyone the information and then begin collecting student results.  We create student charts, hold meetings, and set even more action plans to continue adding even more band-aids to the plan.  For the most part, we hypothesize that the problem is not enough strategizing.

Instead, the non-linear path of school improvement, reveals the need to spend a significant amount of time ensuring there is proper understanding and implementation of the strategy at the beginning – 90%.  In studying this concept, I often use the phrase: 90% CFI – “How can we ensure we will implement the strategy at a level of 90% Consistency, Fidelity, Integrity?”.

  • How does this question change how you establish an action plan?
  • What type of data should be collected in addition to student results?
  • What type of conversations shift during staff meetings?
  • What needs to be done to monitor the implementation efforts?

Knowing this new reality has changed how I lead for true change with every action and activity we consider.  In our rush of good intentions to enact change, we must continue pushing the conversations with a 90% CFI mentality if we want to truly implement sustained change efforts.


  1. Great post, Neil, and timely for me as we will have discussions when we return from the holidays about expanding our pilot in our Algebra classes. I think one thing to add to the discussion is, “90% CFI + the WHY.” In other words, how can we ensure that 90% understand the WHY behind the strategy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s