Leading the Leaders
Vol. 13 No. 6
School Heads often find themselves in the position of “leading leaders”—that is, guiding people who are used to having the final say in their areas of expertise. A team of leaders understands the importance of getting things done and hammering out logistics. With them, you pit the best of the best against the problems your school faces. That same team can also devolve into a mosh pit of powerful personalities, all needing the last word.
Whether your team becomes a league of private school superheroes or a catfight depends largely on how you frame and guide your leaders.
Know what must be done.
Before the team meets, establish the topic of discussion and be ready to stick to that. Consult with relevant subject matter experts on the team if the topic will center around their areas of expertise. If possible, send an email a week in advance of the meeting contextualizing the topic with bulleted “must cover” points.
Keep them focused.
Each of these leaders has his or her vision of what the school is and what it can become. If left unchecked, the conversation and goals of the team can become muddled, decreasing the team’s ability to effect necessary, verifiable changes.
The agenda you emailed to team members earlier serves as a good "map" for your meeting to follow. If conversation starts veering onto a side trail, redirect everyone to the stated goal of the meeting and offer to discuss the new topic at a later date. This way, people won't feel as though you’re squashing conversations outright, and you still keep everyone on target.
Level the (speaking) field.
You’ll have a range of personalities on your team. Some leaders will naturally—often unintentionally—try to dominate the conversation, while others will hang back for a more tactful time to approach you. To ensure that no one but you guides the team, plan to encourage quieter members to speak while muting those who are more outspoken.
- When initially inviting opinions on a topic, restrict team members to a few spoken remarks. (“We have a limited amount of time tonight and I’d like to hear from everyone, so we’ll go around the room and have everyone give their opinion on the topic. Please limit your answer to a minute or less.”)
- Ask for contributions and ideas prior to the meeting in your initial email, and go over the responses of those who replied to your query before inviting new ideas in the meeting.
- If conversation or debates begin to reiterate previously stated points, calmly intervene to refocus them on the task at hand. (“Okay, we seem to be talking in circles here. Let’s either table this or move forward with the vote, as we have to accomplish X tonight.”)
Keep it positive.
Finally, remember that you and all of your fellow leaders want the same thing: A vibrant, fiscally sound private-independent school. Sometimes, this common goal can be lost in the personality clashes and roadblocks your leaders face. Negativity saps energy and creative solutions, so work to make your meetings a place of positive discussion that invigorates, rather than exhausts.
Yes, your team must hash out the duller details and find compromises to accomplish the stated goals. Plans will fail. Obstacles will appear. Tempers will flare, and voices will rise.
But find a way to energize your leaders and remind them of the bigger picture. If time permits, start your meetings with a verbal “show and tell” of positive experiences at the school since they last met. You could share compliments for staff and school from parents, collected in casual conversations or formal surveys. Thank them for the sacrifices they’ve made for the team and the school.
Look for ways to praise your fellow leaders, and make a point of doing so in front of their peers. Show them the fruits of their labors and how they’ve made the school a better place, and your school’s leaders will look up to you as their guide.
Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 8 Do You Have the Right Academic Administrators?
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 11 No. 6 Coaching the Coaches
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 7 Ten Essential Rules for Productive Meetings
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 13 No. 2 School Administrators at Board Meetings: Who, When, and Why
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 14 Action-Oriented Agendas for Successful Board Meetings