Are we connectors?

I remember reading the Tipping Point a little while ago, when Gladwell discusses the “Law of the Few”.  If we are wanting schools to continuously improve, what is the role of the school administrator? Below are the definitions as listed by Wikipedia of the three different roles as discussed by Gladwell:

The Law of the Few“, or, as Gladwell states, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”[3] According to Gladwell, economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants.”[4] (see Pareto Principle) These people are described in the following ways:

  • Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”[5] They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [… for] making friends and acquaintances”.[6] He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram’s experiments in the small world problem, the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and Chicagoan Lois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to “their ability to span many different worlds [… as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”[7]
  • Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.”[4] They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is “almost pathologically helpful”, further adding, “he can’t help himself”.[8] In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, “A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own”.[8] According to Gladwell, Mavens start “word-of-mouth epidemics”[9] due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, “Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know”.[10]
  • Salesmen are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell’s examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchor Peter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon’s cultural microrhythms study.

Thinking about these, I was wondering which one a school administrator should be? The more I continue in my own career, I feel that we need to be connectors, but also feel sometimes the other characteristics are necessary.

What are your thoughts?  Does an administrator need to be one of these things?  Do they need to have characteristics of all three?  If administrators are to develop schools that are reliant on systems as opposed to individuals, in what category (if any) should they fall


  1. Chris Hale said:

    These are good questions George, but I think it unlikely that many effective leaders will embody all three elements. What may be more effective is an admin TEAM that is comprised of each characteristic. While not all school have three administrators (P and 2 VP’s), there are other leaders (Gladwell’s 80/20?) within a school whose own skills and characteristics help the Principal achieve the desired flow and further what ever system or goals which are in place. Regardless of an administrator’s attempts to develop a school that is reliant on a system, success will be elusive without the support of the individuals who work together.


    January 5, 2011
  2. Shannon said:

    Great questions, George. Timely for me too, as I was thinking of Gladwell and these roles last night as I prepared some pieces for an upcoming teacher blogging workshop. I think that the short answer for me is that we have to be all three, depending on the situation and depending on who else is involved and what is needed.

    You already know I think “connector” is critical, especially now. It has to be a “given” in my mind.

    I think we need to be salespeople – we need to be able to sell a product by demonstrating how it enhances what we do. I take the slow and steady route here, but I feel the tide is shifting – I was recently contacted by an intern on our vice principal list, who wanted to spend at least part of her ‘intern day’ with me setting up a blog, learning the ins and outs of twitter, etc… The next step, from my perspective, is to make this type of thing an integral part of the intern program.

    I love the term “almost pathologically helpful”. How could that not be a key part of our role?

    We also need to recognize which roles those around us play best. Here is an example:

    I put out an offer to our staff to walk anyone interested through the steps of setting up a blog. There are a few key folks on staff who I need to have involved if this is going to gain traction. One in particular is definitely a maven with regards to instructional practices — she really gets formative assessment and her reading program is awesome. People respect her expertise and her knowledge. Blogging would be new for her, and, if she embraces it, it will spread, at least throughout the primary division. As soon as this teacher signed herself up, I knew we were well-positioned for success – stay tuned! I think I can see the tipping point from here…


    January 5, 2011
  3. Justin Tarte said:

    George – awesome questions…as an aspiring administrator I don’t have a total vote, but here we go! I see the need for all three…an administrator has to wear many hats, and that is why the job is difficult, stressful and requires a stern but soft voice. As a current teacher, we expect so much from our administrative staff, and in order for those expectations to be fulfilled they most assume the role of many…

    I want my principal to be able to help me…show me how, teach me how, or connect me with someone who knows how…

    I want my principal to be a conductor of information…accumulating it…discovering it…and then sharing it…

    I want my principal to inspire and motivate…sell me on a new idea or concept…persuade me to change things up a little bit if it can help my students…

    just my thought…great as always George!

    January 5, 2011
  4. See my summary of The Tipping Point at DrDougGreen.Com if you want more. If you don’t own this book be sure to get it so you can get all the fine points.

    January 6, 2011
  5. This is great George.

    I know some view Gladwell as a bit of a charlatan, and I too was appalled by his recent poor piece about the weak value of Twitter. But I have always found him to be a great “connector” himself, and I appreciate his popularization and sharing of the fascinating implications or contemporary social science.

    Tipping Point and Outliers both have such good value for educators in the ideas they raise and the questions they ask (I think Blink is much less valuable).

    I was struck as I read your piece in thinking about these three categories in terms of ourselves not only within our buildings but as “Connected Principals” in the wider world of education innovation and advancement. (I shy away from the term “reform” as it has been seized by forces opposed to much of what we advocate). I think George that within this world you are a brilliant connector (and not at all shabby at the other two pieces); it is interesting to try to think that among the bloggers and “tweeple” who intersect with us here at CP how some are mavens and others salesman. What a great contribution CP can make to this movement, because of our connectors, mavens, and salesmen (and saleswomen).

    As for myself in my “building,” (we are fortunate enough to have a beautiful campus of about a dozen buildings), I read your piece to recognize all the ways in which I need to grow into all three. I guess though that my view will always be that it is the “maven” category to which I will gravitate, in part because my social and interpersonal skills are just not in my “strengths” suite (not that I don’t try to grow them!).

    As for salesmen, I would just point out, in a very small way, the possibility that a full salesman approach undercuts or could potentially cut against the very idea you yourself promote so passionately: we need to empower others, and empower them to take initiatives of their own and potentially so independent as to be against our own points of view. The salesman mode seems to be potentially limiting to a full empowerment of others: a “trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.”

    Thanks George.

    January 9, 2011

Comments are closed.