Inboarding Versus Onboarding: Know the Difference to Help Your Leaders Succeed

Inboarding Versus Onboarding: Know the Difference to Help Your Leaders Succeed
Inboarding Versus Onboarding: Know the Difference to Help Your Leaders Succeed

Academic Leadership//

October 17, 2019

When someone starts in a new role, there are steps to help that person get up to speed. This is especially true for those in leadership positions, as their job involves not only completing certain tasks, but also managing individuals or teams.

You may have heard the terms inboarding and onboarding—and assumed they were the same. But these two terms refer to how to bring individuals into the fold of your school, depending on their background and experience.

Whether you’re starting a new role yourself or are supporting others as they take on leadership positions, know the difference between these terms to help your leaders succeed.


This is the process of helping established school employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to succeed in a new leadership role. The person already knows the school culture and mission, and now must transition to a leadership position within the school. This requires thought and care, as this person is already well-known by the people they will now manage.

Prepare for:

  • New relationships. As a new leader, you will interact with people you know in a different capacity. This often leads to forming new types of relationships.
  • New expectations. A leadership role means increased responsibilities and often more pressure to deliver.
  • New set of norms. What made sense in your old position in terms of socializing might not today. A role change might require rethinking how to manage social situations.

Our advice:

  • Don’t move too fast. Even though you understand the culture, you are now working from a different angle. Don’t expect to make changes immediately.
  • Show respect by listening. Provide time for colleagues to accept you in a different role. Set up times to speak with your new team to understand their questions and concerns.
  • Give them space. You may not be able to attend the same functions or interact in the same ways now. Be present but give people space to adjust during the transition.


This refers to the process of helping new employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and cultural understanding to succeed in a job they were hired for. This person comes in from a different school or industry, and needs to become familiar with his or her job role as well as the school’s culture and mission.

Prepare to:

  • See and be seen. Part of joining a new community means getting to know the people in it. Don’t become so overwhelmed with learning a new role that you don’t stroll through the cafeteria at lunch or stop by sports practices after school. Be out and about to get to know your students, parents, faculty, and staff—and allow them to get to know you.
  • Look for what’s going well. Every school has its own unique strengths and challenges. Take note of what’s going well—why does it work? How can what’s successful be replicated in other areas?
  • Keep track of what could use improvement. On the flip side, be sure to notice what challenges the school faces, especially ones you can work to improve.

Our advice:

  • Use listening skills. Build trust by listening to what your team needs. This allows you to implement change that your people truly want.
  • Ask questions instead of giving orders. Ask thoughtful questions about why things are the way they are, what’s working, and what should change.
  • Take things slowly. Don’t expect to make changes right away. Instead, take a few months to learn the school’s culture and mission and build trust with your team. Only then should you begin to roll out positive changes—once you’re sure they’re the right ones.

We hope these tips help as you or a member of your team transitions to a new leadership role.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 17 No. 7 How to Flourish as a New School Head
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 15 No. 9 Four Tips for New Division Heads

Additional ISM resources for members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 5 The Division Head: A New Reality


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