The Why of Episcopal Schools

Recently, I re-visited Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. Sinek takes his readers on a journey to explore some of the most inspirational leaders and successful business personalities in our history—people who truly changed the world. Basically, his thesis is that all great and inspiring leaders think, act, and communicate in a similar, particular way. He also contends that their approach tends to be the exact opposite of how most of us think, act, and communicate.

In typical decision-making and communication, we tend to initially focus on the “what” and the “how” of our schools and programs. In our world, that could mean talking about the nuts and bolts of the newest course offering or activity that we hope will encourage families to join us. Don’t get me wrong—those things are critical. However, the order of how we communicate can be equally critical.

Rather than initially focusing on the how” or the “what,” the best leader—the ones that change the world—always begin with the “why” of what they do. Every decision is focused on the why. Every action is the incarnation of the why. Every communiqué is a clear articulation of the why.King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is a great example.That speech wasn’t great because it was a complete blue print of the “what” and the “how” that would get us to his vision. Rather, it was great because it clearly articulated the “why” of the civil rights movement.

In so doing, these strongest leaders are able to motivate, inspire, and build a following in a way that the “what” or the “how” just can’t. It’s the clear understanding of why that serves as the foundation of communities or movements that do extraordinary things.

So, what is the “why” of Episcopal schools?

For me, it’s pretty simple. I work with Episcopal schools because we change the lives of students in a way pleasing to Christ. Our communities make students and adults better. We are counter-cultural in that we demand the very best while still embracing each other when we fall short. We force students to dig deeper with those big questions and to never be satisfied with an answer just because it is witty or entertaining or because it will fit in a tweet.

We also change lives by creating communities that embrace inclusivity. In a world too eager to draw lines that categorize and divide people, our communities strive for a much better way. We strive for a way to accept and embrace people “as they are and where they are” while encouraging them to go deeper in their relationship with God. As our Presiding Bishop recently reminded us of the words of Paul, “All who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed in Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.” When we live these words, the result can be both life-changing and life-giving.

This is our “why.”

Now, let’s share it with the world.

David MadisonThe Rev. David A. Madison, D.Min., is Executive Director of the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools. He can be reached at