Ignore E. Don Brown At Your Own Peril

Right now, go and read (or re-read) yesterday’s post, “E. Don Brown’s First Leadership Lesson.”


If you even in the least bit doubt the wisdom of E. Don Brown’s advice, “Leaders Do Not Have The Luxury of Having A Sense of Humor,” let my recent failure serve as an example. The following is a note I received and my response.  Up front, I am not the aggrieved party in this exchange. I share this as an object lesson…

Dear Mr. Cain,

It has come to my attention that you have taken the latitude to promote your training by being critical of (MASKED) ISD.  I find this to be inappropriate and highly unprofessional.  I am disappointed that you sought to ignore the data indicating that the (MASKED) ISD has demonstrated significant growth and improvement, including STAAR and EOC performance that ranks among the best with regard to several subject areas and student populations. In the future, I would appreciate that you focus on your work in the respective district you are serving and avoid using critiques of other school districts as a way to endear yourself.  

If you want to discuss this in person, I will make myself available to you.


Signature (MASKED)


SC Response:

When I received the above note I immediately called the writer of the letter to personally apologize. Which was the first and best response. I then followed our conversation with the letter below:


Dear (Masked),


Thank you for contacting me when my comment was reported to you. Out of context, I see how my comment could be disturbing. Going straight to the source is prudent and responsible. I do the same thing, as evidenced by my phone call.


As I shared in our conversation, the context of my comment was in no way meant in the way it has been interpreted.


I meant absolutely no malice and in no way was I attempting to denigrate (MASKED) ISD. I am fully aware of the success (REGION) area school districts (of which (MASKED) ISD is a leading member) and use (REGION) area public schools as an example of what is possible and doable when I present across the state and the country.


I was simply trying to reduce stress in the training room by using a joke.


I know that any time you have to explain a joke it is no longer funny, but I ask for your indulgence.


Here is the construct and reason for the joke, which I use hundreds of time every year.


First, as Texas educators, we are inherently competitive. This competitive nature is one of our strengths.


Second, we have rivals. Rivals that push us to get better faster. To our credit, because we are educators and public servants, these rivalries are generally friendly.


My training sessions are designed to assist educators in their endeavor to better implement better practice. This forces participants to recognize that they currently are not as good as they endeavor to become. This can be stressful. When I sense this, I use a version of the following joke.


“Of course I don’t mean that YOU aren’t doing (the tough thing). I’m talking about (insert rival name).”


Why is this a joke? Because the punch line really isn’t the rival. The punch line of the joke is that:


  1. I am actually talking about the audience members, and they know that is the case.
  2. I know they have a rival. Because when I was in their role, my Texas school and Texas school district had rivals.


I have told this joke hundreds of times in school districts across the country. The near universal response to this joke is light laughter. The tension in the room is broken and the training continues. This is what occurred this week.


Finally, nothing in the letter is meant as an excuse. I recognize that my attempt at humor has caused offense.  For this I apologize. In the future, I will cease using (MASKED) ISD as a named rival for any (REGION) area school or school district.




Sean Cain


Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

  • Upcoming Conference Presentations: TASSP Assistant Principal Conference; ASCD Empower Conference; TASSP Summer Conference (Keynote); NAESP Summer Conference (Multiple Presentations) 
  • Follow @LYSNation on Twitter and Lead Your School on Facebook.