Mike Kleba on Otherful, SXSW, and why Leaders Don't Lead

If you’ve ever been to a MeetUp with the NYEdTech Community you know Mike Kleba. He’s the man moving about the room, equally excited to meet fresh faces as he is to see old pals. He’s the one intently listening as people share their work or their passion and then instantly saying, “I know exactly who you should meet.”

In addition to leading a community of over 8,500 EdTech professionals, Mike’s a passionate high school teacher, the co-founder of Leaders Don’t Lead, and a sought after speaker. With the release of Otherful, he can now add author to his resume.

We sat down with Mike to learn more about what sparks his passion and why he thinks leaders are the key to changing the world.

You’re one of the organizers of the NYEdTech meetup. What’s the best part of being an organizer for this group?

The people in this city are amazing. Nobody hustles like a New Yorker! It’s the global center of edtech. Our meetup is filled with a heady mix of educators, developers, entrepreneurs, designers, people in venture capital, folks in sales and marketing, school administrators, visionaries… Seriously, it’s a party. Having the ability to connect these people with each other, to hear their stories and try to help them accomplish things is incredible. I’m a very lucky guy.

Why this book? Why now?

Because relationships are the most valuable asset in every organization. Leaders are the ones tasked with doing-- or not doing-- the work to build and maintain those relationships. Otherful is about leadership’s ground zero in our culture: schools. My co-author, Dr. Ryan O’Hara, and I spent 10 years studying leadership across many fields and industries. We found that great leaders are rigorous about one thing above all others: attending to their relationships with the people who work for them. We aren’t go

What’s a common myth about leadership?

That people believe leadership is about control and getting people to do what you want. They’re half right. You really can’t control people as a leader; if you try, people will do what you want when you’re looking and then whatever THEY want when you aren’t around. The real play is to seek influence among your people-- and you can only do this after you build authentic and vulnerable relationships with them. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower: leadership is getting people to do what you want, for themselves.

So, "Every School Is Ski School?"

In the book, I include a story about an amazing ski instructor I had when I was a kid. He taught me that I had to learn how to fall before I learned to ski. We have to decriminalize falling-- and failing-- in schools and everywhere else. We forget that there is a grace to failure. Our mistakes don’t just teach us lessons; they make us more human. They connect us, reminding us of how much we really have in common.

How has writing this book changed your practice?

I now think more about how useless it is to try and change other people. I can’t work ON people– I can only work THROUGH them. And to do that, I need to first work hard to earn their respect and trust. Honestly, writing this book has changed my life.

You’ve got a popular session coming up at SXSWEdu called “Masters of Practice.” Tell us a little about that.

This session is going to be insane! The amazing people at SXSWedu helped me gather a Super Group of teachers-- all of them are NY Times Bestsellers and global influencers. I can’t believe we got them all in one place. Esther Wojcicki is the OG of teaching: she helped start Google Education, is the mother of three incredible women (including the CEO of YouTube), is currently advising Costa Rica on their whole education system, and she’s still teaching journalism at Palo Alto High School. Jess Lahey is a passionate and compelling middle school English and Latin teacher who wrote probably the best book ever written for parents on the power of productive failure. And the undeniable Chris Emdin, professor at Columbia University, is a TEDTalk superstar who lights up every room he’s in with his enthusiasm for redesigning how teachers and schools address students through hip hop and culturally responsive pedagogy. No one has ever seen a panel of teachers like this! It’s going to be bonkers.

What are you looking forward to more at SXSW? Eating tacos or going to the after parties?

That’s a tough one. I suspect I’ll be at my best when I’m doing both at the same time.