Part 1: Leading with Vulnerability to Create a Culture of Innovation with Jerry Almendarez

Welcome back to the first episode of 2022.

Leadership has always been challenging. Leading during a pandemic has made it even more so. Two years into the pandemic there is one resounding takeaway. These are importance of creating a culture of safety, a culture of trust, and a culture of innovation.

Part 1: Leading with Vulnerability to Create a Culture of Innovation with Jerry Almendarez

This season of the podcast documents the stories, strategies, trials, and tribulations of leaders in education. Also, how they have responded to create a culture of innovation where people can thrive in the midst of ambiguity.

To ground our conversation on leadership we’re using the definition from David P. Notgrass:

“Transformational leaders are those who encourage creativity, recognize accomplishments, build trust, and inspire a collective vision. They are role models for the beliefs and values they want to see others adopt. Also, they believe that their audience is able to rise to the occasion.”

How do you practice these principles outlined by Notgrass to create a culture of trust and innovation? This is a question that people often ask Jerry Almendarez, the superintendent at Santa Ana Unified School District in Orange County, California. If you follow Jerry on social media you know why.

I can’t imagine any other guest to launch this series with than Jerry.

Jerry leads the urban school district of Santa Ana Unified, the 10th largest district in the state with over 45,000 students, and is the second largest employer in the city with over 5000 employees. Jerry joined the district just a few short months before the pandemic began.

He came to Santa Ana from the Colton Joint Unified School District, where he served as Superintendent since 2010. His career in education spans 27 years and includes experience at all levels from classroom teacher to superintendent. His Ted Talk “My Superintendent Story” is a testament to his promise to inspire and motivate those who at one point may have lost their way.

He tells the story of a young man named Michael whose story of redemption and relentless determination is a true example for all that no matter how many times we may fail, there is always a chance for success. A message that serves as the foundation for how he leads.

This conversation was so powerful and so rich in value that I had to divide it into a 3 part series.

In This Episode We Discuss:

  • How Jerry defines innovation
  • The framework Jerry uses to develop strategic foresight
  • How being vulnerable led to deep and meaningful relationships with his leadership team
  • The strategies Jerry uses to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world
  • How Jerry leads with empathy to predict future trends and make decisions in his district
  • How he overcomes the fear of being vulnerable in public spaces, such as social media platforms

Connect with Jerry

If you don’t already follow Jerry, find and connect with him on every platform. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. In Part 2 I speak with Jerry, and two principals in the district about leadership and social influence, how he builds a culture of trust and creativity, and the ripple effect it has throughout the district.

We love hearing what questions you have and what ideas resonated with you. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Instagram and tag us in your posts.

I’m Sabba.

I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.

Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities. 

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