Choose to Lead

This book will give you some guideposts, some practical tips—some takeaways, if you will—on how to think about leadership. It is not meant to be prescriptive; leadership is much too fluid to be formulaic.


You Need Tools, Not Rules.

See Early Praise for Choose to Lead

Choose to Lead book cover

Early Praise for Choose To Lead

“Jim Kubacki has spent his professional life making a difference with his students, his staff, his school, and his community. This extraordinary book is a wonderful primer of what it takes to seek excellence and to serve others …. That is what the choice to lead is all about…. Students of leadership, regardless of age, will get better after consuming this masterpiece.”

Jim Tressel

President, Youngstown State University, Youngstown Ohio

“I have known Jim for close to fifty years and have admired the leadership he has brought to every institution he has touched. He is a difference-maker of the first order.”

William R. Fitzsimons

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Choose to Lead is both an inspirational invitation and a practical daily guide for education leaders, underscoring the essential role school administrators play in our children’s futures. The entire school leadership team, including trustees, will benefit from the lessons and advice in this book. Reading Choose to Lead made me want to be a better leader and a better person.”

Connie Ballmer

Co-founder The Ballmer Group, Former Board Chair, Lakeside School, Seattle, Washington

“An essential read for every new high school president and any leader looking to build a healthy, thriving school. Kubacki’s masterpiece distills decades of success into a practical field manual that you will drench in highlighter and refer to often on your leadership journey.”

Joe Jordano

President, Father Gabriel Richard High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Our team walked away with leadership tools that they will be able to immediately put to work to improve their leadership and our performance. Feedback from the team, which represented all levels of seniority, was universally positive on Jim’s leadership session.  It was interactive and engaging. Jim’s leadership framework is applicable across industries.”

Kurt McMaken

Senior Vice President, Operations Finance and Transformation, Eaton Corporation, Currently serving as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, The Brinks Company, Dallas, Texas

“This is a wonderful book for anybody stepping into a leadership role at an academic institution and anybody who is already in a leadership role and wants to reflect on what we do, why we do it, and how to do it more effectively. This book benefits enormously from Jim’s wisdom, humility, passions, experiences and successes. In particular, this book is perfect for emerging leaders who believe deeply in the power of education and who want to lead in authentic ways as role models for others.”

Adam S. Weinberg

President, Denison University, Granville, Ohio

“Jim Kubacki is an exceptional leader and ranks among the elite heads of school in the country. Jim’s direct, candid, and proven leadership style and insights provide an enlightening “must-read,” not only for emerging stars, but is highly valuable for those serving as school trustees. Jim’s authenticity, communication skills and his lessons on collegiality and collaboration with all of a school’s constituents are absolutely spot on when it comes to choosing your next head of school.”

Marc Byrnes

Company Chairman Emeritus Oswald Companies, Former chair of Cleveland University School Headmaster Search Committee

“Jim Kubacki’s extraordinary career as an innovative school leader is marked by decades of developing leaders through his mentorship and modeling. In Choose to Lead, that wisdom is now an open book, organized around a thoughtful framework, punctuated by his sage mantras, and illustrated by powerful personal stories. Experience is the best teacher, and the learning is ours as this engaging read reflects honestly on authentic leadership situations and the mindset behind them. I highly recommend for all who desire to grow in their leadership practices.”

Frank W. O’Linn, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland

“A practical, straightforward, user-friendly guide written by an accomplished school leader, Choose to Lead fills a gap in the resources available to aspiring and sitting private school leaders. Kubacki’s clear, no-nonsense writing makes the book a quick read, and his frequent anecdotes add relevance to the concepts driving each chapter. Like the quarterback he was at Harvard, Kubacki throws bullets throughout the book: “Be good or be gone,” “Make time your ally,” “Control what you can control” — along with concise, punchy annotations of the values, traits, and skills of leadership — that mark Choose to Lead as a handbook rather than a textbook. You won’t find convoluted leadership theories, Venn Diagrams, or data tables in this book; instead, you take in page after page of reflections and advice from a deeply experienced, forthright, widely-regarded private school president. Choose to Lead is refreshingly pragmatic and candid, a timely and unprecedented resource for anyone seeking to build their school leadership repertoire.”

Dr. Olaf “Ole” Jorgenson

Head of School, Almaden Country Day School, San Jose, California

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About The Book

Our job collectively is to transform the lives of our students.

I feel strongly that school leadership is as important as ever to the future of our country. Schools must grow and transform in order to meet the needs and challenges of each successive generation. We will always need educators, strong leaders, to instruct our youth, embrace leadership and model it for our students who will develop into our future leaders.

Choose to Lead: A Practical Guide for Educational Leadership is drawn from my years of experience as a secondary school head, principal, college associate dean of admission and college football coach. I have enjoyed helping schools achieve excellence. I was fortunate to play a leading role in the design and building of an $88 million 160,000 square foot campus and the creation of a middle school for Eastside Catholic School.

This book is written for up and coming school leaders, trustees or anyone interested in education. I hope this guide will help you understand and appreciate all the angles of running a school as seen through the eyes of a successful school head.

As I have learned from educators far and wide over the course of my career, I began to think about how I might give something back. Several years ago, I began jotting down notes on my experiences in the trenches (as it were). Could I extract meaning from those experiences and pass it along to emerging leaders? It is my hope that this book will start a conversation and serve as food for reflection.

As I look at my own growth, I can see some things with clarity that I would not have seen at a younger age. But I could easily serve another forty years and never stop learning. I learn every day. I make mistakes every day. I hope you enjoy the book, find it useful and instructive and get involved to ensure that the education of our youth remains a critical priority in our country!

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Leadership in 4 parts

Personal Leadership

Develop your personal belief system

Organizational Leadership

Focus on the big picture

Visionary Leadership

Develop a personal visionary mindset

Operational Leadership

The nuts and bolts of execution


Leadership is always evolving, in large part because we are informed by our experiences as we move through life. Leadership is not easy; then again, it is never boring. Leadership is clearly challenging, probably now more than ever. Certainly, it is more complex than it used to be, just as the lives of our students are more complex. Nothing will give you a more complete sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, however, than seeing young men and women become fully functioning and engaged adults, true leaders in their own unique ways. Like the ripples created when a stone is dropped into a pond, your influence will spread as a series of ripples to all corners of the earth as your students branch out in all directions.

What we do as educational leaders matters.


For heads of school, presidents, principals, administrators, teachers, trustees, and those looking to move into educational leadership.

This book can help trustees understand better the position of the head of school. If you’ve been a head for a while, this book might be a good opportunity to step back and reflect. Finally, while this book focuses on leadership in the nonpublic setting—the setting for my experiences—I believe many of the lessons apply to all types and levels of schools and even education itself.

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About The Author

James Kubacki - Author

Throughout my life I’ve received opportunities and support for which I am grateful. I will forever appreciate the importance of educating and leading young people toward their goals. I hope the book is a useful resource for your own leadership pursuits.

I was raised in a hardworking, blue-collar family outside of Cleveland, Ohio. I am the fourth of seven children. Neither of my parents finished high school. As an introvert growing up in a large family with some strong personalities, I learned to listen, a skill that has served me well in my leadership roles. Our family owned the Pink Elephant Tavern in Westlake. Our house was attached to the tavern, and I saw the hours my parents put in: my mom opened at 7:00 am, and my dad closed at 1:00 am. There were years when the tavern was closed only on Christmas and Easter. I saw firsthand what sacrifice looked like. Life centered around family, school, friends, and sports.

I am a graduate of St. Ignatius High School, Harvard University, with a degree in history, and the Fordham Graduate School of Education, with a master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services.

My over forty years of experience have included coaching football at the college level – at Harvard and Fordham; as an Associate Dean of Admission at Princeton; as the principal at St. Edward High School and twenty-one years as president at two schools – Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Washington and St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio.

I’ve found that being a quarterback and then a coach at the college level contributed a lot to my development. Coaches and quarterbacks call the plays and build teams. I’ve always loved preparing for a game by watching film of our opponent and calling the plays—my personal chess match—on game day. In other words, I like to have the responsibility, the ball in my hands. I was fortunate to be the Harvard quarterback for two years as our team became the first outright Harvard Ivy League champion. I was honored to be voted the Crocker Award (MVP) by my teammates and was inducted into the Harvard Athletic Hall of Fame.

Jim Kubacki

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