Lance Gibbon

Dr. Lance Gibbon is a dynamic leader in education, serving a diverse range of students, staff, and families for three decades in the Puget Sound area. Dr. Gibbon’s efforts have contributed to improved student achievement, expanded opportunities, and state and national awards. A passionate volunteer and community supporter, Dr. Gibbon was twice recognized as Community Leader of the Year.

After earning a B.A. in Music Education, Dr. Gibbon obtained a Master’s in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate in Education from Seattle Pacific University. During his distinguished career he has served as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, and teacher.

Cultivating connections and enhancing team building through creative strategies and community partnerships, Dr. Gibbon exemplifies servant leadership. While managing million-dollar budgets, he fosters positive, inclusive learning environments for students, educators, and staff members alike.

Dr. Gibbon supports many organizations, including Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. He has been honored with awards from Empower Youth Network, the Washington School Public Relations Association, Best of Whidbey, and Washington Green Schools.

A long-time professional musician, music producer, and arts supporter, Dr. Gibbon is involved with JazzClubsNW and plays keyboards at his church. He and his wife Michelle enjoy spending time with family, camping in their retro trailer, and attending live music events.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It begins by just talking about the concept and kicking it around a bit. A good idea usually sparks more good ideas. It’s a positive sign when people start adding their thoughts with enthusiasm. That not only improves your idea but also increases ownership and buy-in from the team to help make it a reality. After some verbal processing, it’s also useful to have a visual or story to help communicate the vision to others. A clever and concise way of expressing the concept – maybe even some initial branding or marketing – can be a springboard to make an idea come to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

know there’s been a lot of worry that ChatGPT and other AI technologies might negatively affect students and their learning, but I see these as powerful new tools with tons of potential. Wired had a great article about this titled, “ChatCPT Is Coming For Classrooms. Don’t Panic.” There are countless ways the tools can jumpstart learning, raise new questions, and help present information in ways that will connect with more learners. It will be exciting to see how these new technologies evolve and may even spark an evolution in education.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

I was taught a long time ago that “what gets scheduled gets done.” I not only put meetings and events on my calendar, but I also block out work time and list the tasks I need to complete as the title of the calendar item. That makes my calendar a combined schedule and to-do list, which I find much more efficient and increases the chance I get those things finished.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take more time to reflect on moments of accomplishment and failure. Write down why you think it went well or not. What would you do the same or differently? Don’t be so worried about quickly moving on to the next project or event. Soak it in along the way – those lessons will come in very handy down the road.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you on?

When it comes to communication, I always try to beat the grapevine. It’s not that other people think being first to communicate isn’t a good goal– few think it is possible. I disagree. It just takes focus, intentionality and a willingness to put communication at the top of the list. I want my team to be first out with information so that once the grapevine kicks in, people say, “Oh yeah, I already heard about that.” That really builds trust.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

This goes with the previous question. Communicate first and then get to work on the solution. Especially when there’s a problem or a crisis, people need to know that you’re aware and working on it. Communicating may delay the solution a bit, but people will feel more reassured and confident in the outcome and can even contribute to the solution if they feel they’ve been in the loop.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

As an educator, the best stress management tool is spending time with kids. There’s nothing like reading with some first graders or building legos with kindergarteners to clear your head and hit the mental reset button. It also reminds me why I do this work and helps me return to face my challenges with renewed purpose, energy and enthusiasm.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

I’ve  tried not to be afraid to go and think big. My teams have taken on projects or challenges others avoid or wouldn’t be willing to even try. Admittedly, this is a higher-risk strategy, and things don’t always go as hoped. High risk, high reward. However, when things do come together, you can accomplish so much more for students and truly take your organization to the next level. It’s important to remember there’s also a cost to playing it too safe.

What is one failure in your career,  how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

I once took a superintendent position that did not work out. At the end of the day, I just wasn’t the style of leader that the school board wanted, but it certainly felt like a failure, and the board made it worse than it needed to be. I thought, “How did I get to that point, and why couldn’t I see it coming?” But experiences like this open the door to what’s next.

I love Chasing Failure author Ryan Leak’s perspective that we shouldn’t let fear of failure keep us from trying new things. Learning from setbacks is what propels us to even greater things. In this case, some key takeaways were to always stay true to your values, make sure people hire you for who you are, not what they hope to make you become, and that it’s better to leave a job if you reach an impasse with an employer over core priorities and purposes.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Don’t underestimate the power of customer service. Many in education don’t think about us as having customers, but we do. Our internal customers are our students, staff, and other departments. Our external customers are families, community members, businesses, other governmental agencies, and civic leaders. Focusing on how we can better serve each of our customer groups and applying some basic customer service strategies can yield huge dividends.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I find Canva an incredibly easy-to-use program to quickly put together high-quality, engaging presentations and graphics for social media, posters, etc. It’s incredibly flexible, and the templates look great. When I don’t have time to work with a graphic designer or a team to get something out, Canva helps bring my ideas to life with ease.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?

I was fascinated and challenged by The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. It is a remarkable and cautionary tale of leadership, fame, and organizational culture. I’d like to think that my organization or I would never make the same mistakes, but it’s that kind of pride that leads to the fall. It’s important to understand how these dynamics develop and to ask, how do we keep them from happening here? Podcasts like this prompt a lot of self-reflection and can really help guard against similar outcomes, even in small ways.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

I’m a big fan of the Ted Lasso series. Ted experiences setbacks and faces challenges against overwhelming odds. Not everything works out for him as planned, but he continues to try to live and lead with hope, humor, and perseverance. The show is packed with tidbits of Ted’s wisdom like, “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” I think if I can catch just a little bit of Ted Lasso’s magic, I’ll be a better leader as a result.

Key learnings

  • Your staff and customers want to know that you truly care about them and respect what they bring to the table. The results will be better if you hear them and act on what they have to say.
  • Make time to communicate first, even if it delays a solution. Let people know you understand there is an issue and you’re working on it; invite other solutions and information that may help.
  • Wisdom comes from unlikely places. Whether it’s a podcast about a megachurch or a TV show about a college football coach hired to coach an English soccer team, or a disgruntled customer, there are lessons to be learned everywhere.
  • Challenges and setbacks are the fuel that can propel you to even better things. Failure equips you for a future that would not have been possible otherwise.