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In the Face of the Unknown, Know Your Leadership Style

By Jeffrey Shields posted 19 days ago

  

CEO Notebook |

This fall, you will be called on to perform at the top of your game. Knowing how you tend to lead can help you meet the challenges ahead.

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

As we approach one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable school years we will experience in our careers, it’s clear that many ups and downs will be heading our way, and that your colleagues, students and families will call upon each and every one of you to be at the top of your game. Let’s take a collective deep breath and look inside ourselves to bring every skill we possess to the table.

Understanding the kind of leader you are today is key to being the best leader you can be. So I was interested to read a recent Harvard Business Review article that asserts that your leadership style is connected to the first time you recall seeing yourself as a leader. Authors Alyson Meister, Wei Zheng and Brianna Barker Caza call this your “origin story.” They see leadership falling into four distinct categories: being, engaging, performing and accepting.

I’ve long been curious about how leaders tap their leadership potential, and never more than now, as we enter a new phase of crisis management. Lately we are calling it a “pivot,” like when our schools moved to online learning in the spring. And this fall, we will be making critical decisions with minimal or quickly changing information, like determining the most effective face coverings, or adjusting protocols if someone in our community tests positive. These decisions will likely impact our schools not just this year, but in the years ahead, impacting our most fundamental responsibility — how to keep our learning communities safe.

Individuals that have always thought of themselves as a leader, some as early as childhood, fall into the lens of “being.” These are individuals that organized neighborhood activities or led sports teams from their earliest memories.

The HBR authors spoke to nearly one hundred leaders and asked them, “When did you first feel like a leader?” Individuals that have always thought of themselves as a leader, some as early as childhood, fall into the lens of “being.” These are individuals that organized neighborhood activities or led sports teams from their earliest memories. They note personal traits like confidence and optimism. Others may fall into the “engaging” lens, those that see themselves as facilitators of activities that address an urgent need or concern. The “performing” lens describes people who see themselves with a strong responsibility and commitment to others. They are often heard saying things like “my people.” And, finally, the “accepting” lens is for those who first realized they were leaders when others began following them. They were recognized for treating others with respect and fairness, but others had to see it first before they saw it for themselves.

It’s difficult to think which lens best describes business officers generally, as I see so much of the NBOA membership in each of these descriptions. Interestingly, while each of these traits was found across a cross section of those interviewed, they did find that women are more likely to see themselves through the “engaging” lens. These leaders tend to step up during times of crisis, like our current circumstances, that require “leading by doing.” The majority of business office staff at NBOA member schools are female, and this may provide some insight into our community. Many business officers see their most valuable trait is their ability to help the school solve a huge problem.

What is your leadership origin story? What are those of your colleagues and peers?

What is your leadership origin story? What are those of your colleagues and peers? You might raise the question at the start of your next staff meeting as a new way for the group to connect. Tapping into this story could help you and your staff understand the unique role they may be called upon to play with your team and may open doors for each of them to expand their leadership contributions at a time when you and your school need them the most.

Best wishes to those schools putting their reopening plans into practice this week and next, and to those who have already reopened their doors, whether those doors open figuratively in cyberspace or literally on campus.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
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