ACE logo

ACE logo

Leading with Zeal through Personnel Season

Friday, May 27, 2016 by Kole Knueppel

Lead with Zeal Personnel Season Boldness Kole Knueppel

“Zeal is the great desire to make God known, loved, and served, and thus to bring knowledge and salvation to others…[Leaders] who possess it fulfill the duties of their profession with enthusiasm, love, courage, and perseverance…To reach it, [leaders] must neglect nothing. Without it, everything falls apart.”

- Blessed Basil Moreau


The phrase “Lead With Zeal” immediately conjures up images of a smiling, upbeat leader who jubilantly moves about her school lovingly investing in people, while offering encouragement and a positive vision for the future. Moreau captures this concept in the first two adjectives he uses to describe zeal – “enthusiasm” and “love.”

But please don’t miss the next adjective: “courage.”

As we move through personnel season, far too often I see faith-based school leaders shrink back from tough conversations. Cowardice is disguised and passed off as “Christian humility” and “kindness.” I even had a leader say to me once, “We’re all sinners. How can I, a sinner, sit in judgment on the performance of one of my teachers, a fellow sinner?” To steal a quote from Samuel Johnson: “Doctrine is the last refuge of a scoundrel…”

It’s not that these conversations are easy. In “The Advantage,” leadership guru Patrick Lencioni writes:

“Many leaders who struggle with this (I’m one of them) will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; they just don’t want to make their employees feel bad. But an honest assessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness. After all, there is nothing noble about withholding information that can help an employee improve. Eventually that employee’s lack of improvement is going to come back to haunt him in a performance review or when he is let go. And I’m pretty sure there is nothing kind about firing someone who has not been confronted about his performance.” (59)

When I’m faced with a tough personnel conversation, I remind myself that Jesus is walking with me in this work. I also repeatedly say two simple prayers leading up to the conversation.

  1. “Father, give me boldness—I’m doing this for the kids and to serve you.”

  2. “Holy Spirit—Please give me the words to say.”

When we submit ourselves to the Spirit and keep ourselves in humility before Christ and the students we are called to serve, he will give us boldness. He will give us the words to say. In doing so, we will fully live out Moreau’s vision of Zeal—leading not just with energy, enthusiasm, and love but also leaning into tough conversations with courage and boldness in the name of Christ.

About the Author

Kole Knueppel

Kole Knueppel

Kole Knueppel serves as the Director of the Center for Transformative Educational Leadership , and on the faculty of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. 

Prior to joining ACE, Kole was Co-Founder of Schools That Can Milwaukee, a non-profit aimed at dramatically increasing the number of high-quality urban Milwaukee schools through onsite executive leadership coaching, professional development, and cross-sector peer-to-peer sharing of best practices. Kole helped drive the growth of STCM from three founding schools to a network serving over 30 schools and nearly 15,000 students.

From 2008-2010, Kole was the Director for Wisconsin Lutheran’s Center for Urban Teaching, training future teachers and school leaders to be successful in Milwaukee’s urban schools.

Before joining the Center for Urban Teaching in July 2008, Kole served as superintendent from 2004 to 2008 at HOPE Christian Schools, where he led the expansion of HOPE from one campus with 50 students in 2004 to three campuses and more than 500 students in 2008. From 2001 to 2004 Kole led the revitalization of St. Marcus School from a low-performing urban school into a high-performing nationally-recognized model for faith-based urban education. 

Kole has a B.S. in English with a Secondary Education Certificate from Wisconsin Lutheran, a M.S. in Educational Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is completing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.