There is no magic formula for being a great leader. Each day brings new opportunities and unforeseen challenges. To excel as a leader takes wisdom. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.” My interviewee this week, Gary J. Herring is one of those leaders who brings wisdom and experience to the important role of training tomorrow’s leaders. Since 1987, Herring has been Head of School at First Presbyterian Day School in Jackson.
A native of Brandon, Herring grew up in a family of educators. He earned an undergraduate degree in business from Ole Miss and went on to get a Masters of Business Administration from Auburn and Masters of Education in Curriculum and Supervision from Mississippi College. Herring shared, “I believe that my background in accounting, personal management, and finance prior to coming to education was essential in becoming an effective leader in education. Running a school requires the same combination of principles as running a business (i.e. the management of people, money, and facilities for the accomplishment of set goals and strategic plans).”
Herring credits his predecessor Joe Treloar with helping to shape him as a leader. Herring said, “Treloar was a true southern, soft spoken, giant of a man. I spent a year under his tutelage. Every morning he would sit me down and explain how decisions were made and the reasons behind them.” Herring continued, “My father was a teacher and principal in Brandon. He was a godly example of how one treats other people.” Herring has great perspective on the role of education in our society. He shared the old proverb that says “we educate our children not for today or tomorrow, but for seven generations in the future.” Herring explained, “No matter if we are public school administrators or Christian school leaders, we must realize that we educate for eternity.”
A man of faith, Herring begins each day seeking wisdom through study and prayer. He said, “I try to follow the principles that I find in Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). Herring also relies on old fashioned “good sense.” He explained, “Sometimes I find that common sense is the best solution to difficult issues. There are times where rules and policies do not fit certain circumstances, and I must use my God-given common sense.” Herring also believes in not asking anyone to do anything that he is not willing to do himself. He said, “I don’t ask anyone to go where I am not willing to go ahead of them.” Herring also recommends hiring talented people and not micro-managing them. He said, “I believe in hiring very competent people and letting them do their jobs without interference.”
Herring believes in genuinely caring for those with whom he works. He shared, “Other people will accept your instruction or correction if they believe that you care about them. Parents will support an administrator’s decisions they don’t particularly like, if they know he or she loves their child. I believe the same is true for employees. You must care about them personally and demonstrate that.
When employees hurt, you must hurt with them.” There are thousands of children that have been positively impacted over the years by Herring’s leadership, vision, and wisdom. I am thankful for servant leaders around the state of Mississippi like Herring who are on the front line in developing tomorrow’s leaders.
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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