When interviewing parents, faculty & staff, and Boards during the Head search process, I always ask “what qualities are you looking for in your next Head of School?” One of the top answers is consistently some version of: “a visionary leader.” (Another top response is: “a sense of humor”- more on that later!). When ask what a visionary leader looks and sounds like, I hear that people want the Head of their small school to be able to describe the future of the school and what it will be like to be a part of the community into the future. Yet many of the Heads of small schools with whom I communicate struggle to be able to focus on vision; they are so busy managing what flies at them day to day. How can Heads become more visionary?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming “visionary,” here are some steps that have worked for me and for many of my colleagues.
When leaders of small schools are able to articulate a clear, achievable, and meaningful vision that is aligned with the school’s mission and strategic goals, they convey confidence in, and control over, the direction and future of the school. This, in turn, results in a sense of trust and hope within their community. Parents, faculty & staff, and Board members want to know that the Head of their school is leading them in the “right” direction. Articulating and working towards a strong vision will let them know you've got this.
Have you ever known an excellent teacher, one whom everyone loved (students, parents, faculty), who communicated well, facilitated a well-managed classroom, and inspired students? Did that teacher get promoted to a managerial position with oversight of others? And was the transition surprisingly bumpy? Being a good manager requires a set of skills that often aren’t taught or practiced in other roles. We move people into managerial positions because they are good at what they do- and often do not recognize that they will be required to utilize a new skill set for which they are often unprepared.
With today’s changing social, demographic, and legal landscape, schools need leaders with highly developed management skills. Exceptional managers utilize a set of interpersonal, planning, and organizational skills in order to collaboratively and effectively fulfill their responsibilities. Many of these skills are not intuitive or needed in our daily lives, yet can be learned, practiced, and mastered. While these skills are difficult to discern when they are in place, you know when they aren’t there! Through experience, guidance, and research, we have identified eight competencies that we believe are critical for effective management. The majority of these skills are multi-layered and nuanced and take considerable practice to perfect. Nonetheless they can be developed and will enable anyone in a managerial position to be more effective and productive. We describe them briefly here with the hopes that new and emerging managers will further explore each of these topics in order to build upon their own strengths and improve their management practice.
Moving into a managerial position without supportive training can lead to frustration. Furthermore, tackling all of the eight core competencies at once can be overwhelming. We suggest managers address them one by one with each new step building upon the previous until you sense an increase in your skill set. Good managers are usually created, not born. Spending the time learning about and strengthening these eight essential competencies will enable any manager to be more effective, productive, responsive, and confident.