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Getting Schooled on Leading Change

By Jeffrey Shields posted 20 days ago

  

CEO Notebook |

How do you lead strategy when you’re expected primarily to solve problems? 

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

How do you get everyone to take ownership in shared challenges? How do you get buy-in for change when most people resist it — or oppose it adamantly?  

Beyond managing budgets and staying on top of day-to-day challenges, independent school business officers must be influential agents of change. Last Wednesday afternoon in Boston, Howard Teibel, NBOA’s good friend and a highly sought consultant to independent schools and higher education, kicked off our Business Office NOW program by answering those questions and more for the business officers, human resources professionals and controllers in attendance. Here are three of my favorite takeaways. 

Position yourself as a navigator. We all know business officers are master problem-solvers. I’ve heard many stories of your quick thinking that saved a bathroom from flooding, identified funds to help more students attend a field trip or researched myriad health care possibilities in finding the very best coverage the school’s resources could provide. These skills are important, and they’re part of the reason heads of school deeply value the business officer role. Howard’s message, though, is that it’s not enough to solve problems. “We need the mindset of a navigator,” the ability to manage complicated realities and weather rough seas when (not if) they come. Navigators are prepared at these times, he said, because they have the skills and sensitivity to work around breakdowns. 

How does the navigator differ from the problem-solver? You stay focused on the destination, not the precise plan for getting there. You’re prepared to correct course as needed, comfortable operating in ambiguity and committed to moving forward even if you don’t have all the information you might think you need.  

Be an orchestrator” of change. Howard organizes the three sections of the independent school “orchestra” as follows: 

  • Faculty: Their focus is collegiality, they’re all about discussion, their perspective is disciplinary. They have power over cooperation. 
  • Administration: Their focus is managerial, they’re task-oriented, their perspective is institutional. They have power over resources. 
  • Trustees: Their focus is directive, they operate in a top-down manner, their perspective is executive. They have power over leadership 

To effect change and get buy-in requires breaking down the barriers between these groups. Engage with them — don’t “tell” them — based on their focus and needs and power, Howard said. He offered the “quick tip” of asking a faculty member to lunch. Just getting to know them will help lead to a different relationship, he said. 

Howard Teibel on rallying change 

Shift the moods. Have you ever started a meeting by conducting a “mood check?” I found this a simple but brilliant insight that could benefit all leaders. Excited or ambivalent, optimistic or frustrated, our moods can predispose us to certain actions — or certain inactions, should someone be in a mood that closes them off to possibilities. “Naming the mood is the first step to shifting it,” Howard said, especially if that mood is negative. (He recommends the book “Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods” by Gloria Flores). 

As I told the Business Office NOW group, I always learn something valuable about leadership or change when I have the opportunity to hear from Howard. Last week, he gave us all the permission to set aside our problem-solving selves, at least from time to time, and to nourish our leadership side. 

Wishing you all a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving.  

Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, November 21, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.
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