The Monroe Doctrine

An ABC Guide To What Great Bosses Do


By Lorraine Monroe

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Leadership is the key to excellence. And leadership can be learned. Thank goodness, because many people who fall into managerial positions haven’t the foggiest notion how to lead. They don’t feel driven to attain the competencies of a boss — much less a great boss. Lorraine Monroe is a born leader. She caught the bug early, as secretary of the student council in the fourth grade at P.S. 157 in Central Harlem. She went on to found the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, a remarkably successful and innovative public school, and became one of the most respected education reformers in America. Now Monroe translates her extensive experience in New York City public schools into the “Monroe Doctrine” to show other education and business leaders how to create and maintain high-achieving organizations.

The Monroe Doctrine offers readers concrete lessons in the craft of leadership. Its brief, catchy lessons and anecdotes will help potential leaders tap into their natural gifts and harness those gifts to lead seemingly by instinct. Monroe’s personal story of conquering the most overwhelming challenges will inspire leaders of all types to try new ideas to enrich their lives and the lives of their organizations. With The Monroe Doctrine by their side, readers will be able to lead any organization — whether a hospital, a house of worship, a sorority, a family, a school, or a business — with renewed passion and results.


To My Family
Henry, David, Terry, Max, Sarah, June, Omar
Ruth Cromer Williams,
James Edward Williams,
Hattie Belle Cromer,
Edward Lewis Williams,
all of whom I loved,
who loved and formed me,
and who continue to enrich my life in wondrous ways

Anybody who knows me now will not believe me when I say that up until the fourth grade in P.S. 157, I was shy and retiring. But at the beginning of the fourth grade my life's direction changed. I will never know what Mr. James Cooper (a devilishly handsome African-American teacher) saw in me or for that matter what the other teachers saw who recommended me to him. But Mr. Cooper asked me to run for secretary of the student council. I ran and won, and as they say the rest is history. I remained in the student council for the fifth grade and was voted vice president in the sixth grade. I went on to Junior High School 81, joined the school patrol, and graduated from the ninth grade as school leader with the obnoxious title of Head of Heads.
I lived up to that title without being aware of how awfully snotty I had become until a girl who was fed up with my uppity manner came up to me and said, "You think you hot shit don't you?" I thought for a moment and inaudibly replied, "Indeed."
I went to high school, got into the student council, ran for school president, and lost to John Hershey (who wore double-breasted suits) but was elected senior class president and voted the Girl Most Likely to Succeed.
At Hunter College, I was chosen to be president of Omnibus, our Houseplan (a college-grown "sorority"). After graduation from Hunter at the age of twenty-one, I began to teach. In all the years that followed I never thought about or even had the slightest desire to lead a school. I loved teaching, was good at it, and had two young children for whom I wanted to be home when they came home from school. I was glad to do this. I never regretted not moving up into leadership earlier.
However, when Mr. Leonard F. Littwin, my principal and mentor, said to me, "I think you would make a good principal," he planted a seed that fell on what was apparently fertile ground. For the first time in my long years of teaching I began to think of leading a school. I had been observing all along the leadership skills of some administrators and knew that when I was in the fourth grade I was smarter than a lot of them. So I began to take supervision and administration courses and at a rapid rate accumulated the required number of credits to obtain state certification.
While I was doing the above, I was hedging my bets by finishing a master's degree in English literature at Hunter College. The stars were aligning themselves for my future as a leader because in less than two weeks after receiving the certification, a position for an assistant principal miraculously opened up at Stevenson High School in the Bronx and Mr. Littwin selected me to fill the vacancy.
Four years later, in late August, I was asked to take over the leadership of a troubled high school, Taft High School in the Bronx. It was there that I met a remarkable group of teachers and administrators who worked with me to turn the school around. Although the work was hard, it was pure pleasure. It was a joy to cause things to happen by inspiring and supporting staff in their creative madness. Thinking back now on that work and all that we accomplished, I realized there were three important aspects to my leadership:
1. that I loved the adrenaline rush that I got from watching staff, students, and programs grow and develop under my leadership,
2. that I loved being boss in order to use and expand my abilities to dream up the next projects and programs, and
3. that most people like working for a boss who is also competent, collaborative, and a completion compulsive.
After four years of successful work at Taft, I was asked to go to the Central Board of Education to be deputy chancellor in charge of curriculum and instruction for the New York City Public Schools. I took the job because I egotistically thought that I might be able to do for a great many schools what I had done at Stevenson and Taft. While at the Central Board I did some good work, again with the help of a great team—Peter Engel, Jo Ann Asciutto, and Steve Barrientos. However, my time at the Central Board was brief. I was reassigned to Taft, but I took a leave instead and finished my doctorate, something that I had begun while at Taft, once again hedging my bets.
As so often has happened in my life, chance intervened. I was offered an opportunity to teach graduate courses in supervision and administration at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I then backed into national consulting at the request of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Later I returned to the principalship, this time at Frederick Douglass Academy, a new and innovative public school in Central Harlem. This work was so successful that it was featured on the news program 60 Minutes in 1996.
When I retired from the New York City Board of Education for the second time, I was asked to join four successful retired District 4 superintendents at their organization, the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI). I was asked to head a division called the School Leadership Academy. This work involved coaching principals and their leadership action teams in order to improve student achievement, particularly achievement on state tests. The work went well and was quite fulfilling. But in the year 2000 I decided to start my own business, advice I had given to countless women. Once again, to hedge my bets, for an entire year I worked on getting my new organization up and running. In 2001, the Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute was incorporated, and on July 1, began to train and coach principals.
In each of the experiences described above I gained insight into what makes a great leader and a great boss. This book talks about many of these experiences. It is important to say at this juncture that I use the word boss to make a distinction between the two. The word boss connotes a different aspect of leadership. Both leader and boss inspire, motivate, and get results. However, the liquid, softer sound of the letter "l" in leader speaks the difference. Say leader and you think collaboration, conciliation, committees. And now say boss and hear the explosive forceful sound of the letter "b." You think no nonsense, brook no interference, no more nonproductive meetings. Just do it.
The leader and the boss have the same ultimate goal, which is to produce results. They have the same traits, and optimally, they should be in the same person. The differences lie in how things are done, and the speed at which things get done.
Whether the organization is a hospital, a house of worship, a fraternity or sorority, a family, or a business, it will thrive or fail depending on the abilities of the leader. What's required for success is a leader who can do the hard and necessary things needed to make the organization a place where the mission is being worked on every day, in every place, by every person inside the organization, as well as a place where hard work, success, and innovation are recognized, supported, and rewarded.
The lessons in this book are intended to help you practice the craft of leadership and lead any organization successfully. But you can only rise to the level of an artist in this work by tapping into your ancestral bones—the heart, courage, and insight that live at a deeper level than mere skill or craft. If you can combine the hard day-to-day craft of leadership with those unique and secret gifts you were born with, you will be able to lead brilliantly and seemingly by instinct. Speaking for myself, a deep belief in a force outside me that guides and assists me is the final element driving me toward artistry.
The ideas in this book come from the lectures that I give to leaders of schools and other organizations all over the world. Generally, I am asked to talk about the characteristics of a good leader, and I can do that with great facility. However, characteristics are adjectives: Good leaders are smart, prepared, inspirational, and so on. But great bosses are great because in addition to having these important characteristics, they act, they do. In fact, there are certain things that great bosses do every single day. That's what this book is all about, and that's how I hit upon the idea of organizing it through verbs—words of action, words that describe what great bosses do.
In deciding on the format for this book, I went back in memory to my childhood. When I was a kid, I loved to spend time reading the dictionary. I liked the logic of the words being arranged alphabetically, but for me the most fun was flipping the dictionary open to a page and reading the meanings of words that looked interesting or strange and then flipping again through the pages and stopping at a word that fascinated me. I wanted to design a playful page format with capital and small letters just like a children's dictionary, and I hope that readers will browse my ABC book to find verbs and anecdotes that interest them and confirm their own experience as productive bosses and leaders.
The Monroe Doctrine is written for leaders in every arena. Whether your life is devoted to educating kids, growing a business, running a government agency, marketing products, or building a community, you'll find ideas here that will deepen your understanding of how to inspire your people and make your organization run better. You may learn some new things in these pages. More likely—and just as important—you will be reminded of some simple, fundamental truths that are easy to lose sight of in the complex daily life of a leader.
If The Monroe Doctrine inspires you to try one or two new ideas that enrich your life and the life of your organization, I will have achieved my goal in writing it. Enjoy the book, and I wish you success in the profound work of leading others.


1. To forsake, to desert. 2. To give up completely. 3. To quit.
• Abandon drainers and naysayers in your personal life, and avoid them in your professional life.
• Abandon unrealistic fears. Life is too short to waste in fear.
I had taught middle school for ten years when I decided it was time to teach high school. Well-meaning friends said, "Those high school kids are big and bad." But I thought, "They are the same kids I've been teaching for years. They are just bigger and older. I taught and controlled them well in middle school; I can do the same in high school." And I did!
Later, I took a job as one of the deans of discipline in a high school of over 4,000 students. Before I left my old job, my previous supervisor said, "You will be dealing with the underbelly of the school. Soon, you will come crawling back, begging me for a full teaching schedule." I didn't!
What I learned in my dean's office enlarged my sense of compassion and increased my skills for helping distressed people. Every day I dealt with dozens of ordinary children who'd gotten into trouble because of life circumstances over which they had no control. And I learned a lot.
I learned that some of my fellow teachers provoke and antagonize kids.
I learned that many kids who are victims of neglect and of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse can't speak about their pain—and so they act it out instead.
I learned that the same kid who acts obnoxious and profane in order to get attention and respect from his peers can be a pussycat when you get him alone, one-on-one.
I learned that the parents of troubled kids are as troubled, and often more troubled, than their kids.
I became a better teacher, counselor, and parent as a result of working with the "underbelly" of the school. Thank God I knew enough to abandon the fears that my old supervisor had encouraged me to cling to.
Q. What fears are depriving you of the rich rewards of a new and exciting career challenge?
A. Name your fears and examine them in the light of their real causes and the real harm they do—and when you're ready, abandon them!

1. To familiarize, as by habit or frequent use.
• Accustom yourself to thinking and behaving as a leader.
• Accustom yourself to success, starting with small accomplishments.
• Accustom yourself to spotting leadership abilities in others—and in yourself—and nurturing those abilities.
I began to get accustomed to leadership when I was nine years old in the fourth grade. It was then that I ran for secretary of the student council at my father's insistence. When I asked him, "Should I run, Daddy?" He responded, "What's the question? Run!" So I ran and was elected. It was a turning point for me because I'd previously been shy and retiring, but as secretary I had to learn to stand before my peers, read the minutes that I had written, and amend them according to suggestions.
By the end of the sixth grade, inspired by an innovative and devilishly handsome school leader, Mr. James Cooper, I had learned Robert's Rules of Order and had become vice president. I never looked back, and in every school I attended through college I led one or more student organizations.
The habit of leading should begin early. At home and in school, children need to be given opportunities to lead. Getting accustomed to leading early yields both self-confidence and joy in seeing the success or fruition of a project that you spearheaded. Because I was given the opportunity and training to lead, I knew from an early age how leaders can improve the way people think, solve problems, and make things happen. I also knew that leadership training accustoms the future leader to be a cooperative, contributing follower when it is someone else's turn to lead.
Q. Does the idea of being a leader intimidate you a little? Why? What exactly about leadership scares you?
A. Whatever intimidates you, don't let it stop you. Grab the next opportunity, and, little by little, you'll get accustomed to leading and prepare yourself for the Next Big Thing in your life. You'll be amazed at the doors that will open for you!

1. To examine something critically so as to bring out its essential elements. 2. To examine something carefully and in detail so as to identify causes, key factors, and possible results. 3. To study factors of a problem or situation in detail in order to determine the solution or outcome.
• Analyze everything in your organization. Start the analysis in your head. Then write down the pros and cons of every action and decision you are considering.
• Analyze with your heart, feelings, and intuition—then go ahead.
A great boss must be able to analyze the causes of institutional problems or failures. She must also be willing and able to analyze her own behavior as a contributing factor. This requires three things: solitary self-scrutiny, to-the-bone honesty, and lots of ego strength.
Don't assume that your staff or your trusted assistant will tell you what you need to hear. They may be too intimidated—or too kind—to confront you with the truth about yourself.
I've seen an organization begin to die because the boss was unwilling or unable to honestly analyze his own role in causing an exodus of talented staff members (a common organizational problem).
Imagine that you are facing this same problem. If you are a great boss who wants to remain great, you need to analyze yourself. Start by asking and answering crucial questions about your own leadership methods and style.
Q. Am I paying my people salaries commensurate with their services to the organization? Am I including people in planning meetings, brainstorming sessions, and other forums in which important decisions get made? Am I underestimating their contributions to the organization? Am I listening to biased or unwise counsel about my people?
A. It's not easy to confront and answer questions like these about yourself. But there's no alternative to this self-analysis. Strive to be honest and ethical in all your dealings with your talented staff—and constantly analyze, question, and challenge yourself accordingly.

1. To adapt for a special use. 2. To put into action.
• Apply everything you've learned from every job you've had up to your present position.
• Apply everything you've learned about yourself from play and from sports.
• Apply everything you've learned about yourself from every role you've played in your life—as daughter or son, sister or brother, husband or wife, father or mother, friend and neighbor, student and teacher, leader and follower.
Whether you recognize it or not, every job you've ever held has taught you something about leading well.
When I worked in Grandpa Ed's fish and produce store, located across the driveway from his house in Potter's Crossing, New Jersey, I learned that every customer expected to be recognized as important. Each one wanted to be served as soon as he or she arrived, no matter what time of day it might be or how preoccupied I might feel.
One man who lived alone way back in the woods would wake me very early in the morning by banging on the side of Grandpa Ed's house. I would get up and cheerily serve him, filleting fish, weighing potatoes and onions, and packing up a cabbage and a box of cornmeal and lard. I had seen my grandfather behave this way, and I learned to do the same. That's how Grandpa Ed kept his customers. More important, that's why they respected him as a merchant and a person.
Later, in one of my first paid jobs, I worked in the lingerie department on the second floor of Macy's on 34th Street in New York City. It was a part-time job, and I was called a Saturday Only (even though I also worked the late night shift on Thursdays). Dealing with the customers wasn't easy. They'd ask to see all the available colors of the slips, then either choose the white one on display or ask for a color we didn't have. If they chose the white one from the counter, they'd ask, "May I have a fresh one from underneath?" I learned to say, "Of course, Miss," with a smile and produce a fresh one.
Whenever I observe how many businesses are run, I am particularly struck and vexed by the absence of the attention paid to service to the customer. I learned early on in my Grandpa Ed's fish and produce store that it was important to serve and satisfy the customers. I apply this lesson to my customer/clients who were my students and I attribute my success to paying attention to service. My advice to bosses who hire or inherit staff who exhibit the following behaviors is to let them go. Let go staff who do careless shabby work. Let go staff who are frequently late or absent. Let go staff who treat customers as intrusions into their private conversations. Let go staff who are subtly insubordinate. Let them go, otherwise they will kill the organization or you. Follow my mentor's advice, which he got from his mentor, "I don't get ulcers; I give ulcers." Remember you are in business to serve customers. If you don't want to serve and satisfy customers, get into another line of work where you don't have to deal with people.
Q. What three lessons from former jobs can you apply or adapt to being a great boss today?
A. No matter what business you are in—from education to law to computer sales to fixing washing machines—there are lessons you have learned that you can apply to your present leadership work.

1. To seek and answer. 2. To inquire.
• Ask "dumb" questions—you may be surprised what the answers teach you.
• Ask for advice from your staff.
• Ask for forgiveness when you are wrong.
• Ask for wisdom to do and say the right things each day.
Some bosses think that they are the sole possessors of wisdom. They think that asking others for advice is a sign of weakness, and they feel that they will be diminished in the eyes of their employees if they ask for help. Smart bosses know better. Smart bosses hire smart people, and then they learn from them—for the good of the organization.
When the boss asks his staff members, "What do you think?" or "How would you do this?" or "Got any ideas about how we could solve this problem?" he not only learns new things but also comes off as a leader who respects and appreciates his people. They in turn feel flattered by their boss's attitude, and they are likely to turn their performance level up a notch or two: "My boss needs me," they think, "I'd better not let him down!"
Q. Who are the two or three people in your organization you feel comfortable and confident about asking for advice?
A. Smart staff members can make the boss look brilliant. Seek them out, ask their advice, and cherish their opinions.

1. To determine the size, importance, or value of.
• Assess the risks in any really new course of action. Consider how to minimize risks, but don't let them stop you from innovating.


On Sale
Jul 21, 2003
Page Count
224 pages

Lorraine Monroe

About the Author

Dr. Lorraine Monroe has over thirty years of experience as a teacher and administrator in the New York City public schools, most recently as principal of the Frederick Douglass Academy, widely hailed as a model of effective inner-city education. She is currently director of the School Leadership Academy, a new program to teach strategies for innovation and excellence to principals and school administrators, at the Center for Educational Innovation.

Learn more about this author