On January 24 – 26, Search Associates joined the 5,000 attendees at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. A general theme of the conference revolved around leadership, including qualities that make a good leader, the effect of leadership in the workplace, and leadership trends. Founder John Magagna and Senior Associates Diana Kerry, Bridget McNamer, and Julie Ryan attended keynote speeches, participated in professional development sessions, and connected with many school heads.
Keynote Speaker Marcus Buckingham, Founder of the Marcus Buckingham Consortium (TMBC) gave a powerful presentation on the qualities of leaders. Marcus identified nine strengths or roles of leaders, Teacher, Advisor, Connector, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Provider, and Stimulator, before offering all participants the opportunity to take a survey to determine their leadership style. He also shared results of some very high-performing executives in various areas of business. Julie summarized two powerful points she gleaned from Marcus's key note. First, people feel most energized at work if they are using their strengths every day. This is the gateway to creating a high performance team/company. Conversely, if people are in roles where they cannot express themselves, they will not stay. Effective leaders should act as coaches for their team. Ideally, they would ask their direct reports once a week, "What are your priorities? How can I help? This should lead to a five to seven minute conversation. If a leader doesn't have time to do this every week with each report, s/he should have fewer people to supervise.
Donna Orem, Interim President of NAIS, spoke on the importance of collaboration for successful leadership and organizational performance. For innovation to occur within an organization, leaders must creative a vision shared by all colleagues, and he or she should lead horizontally by building trusted, cross-functional teams and letting go of control. In well-oiled organizations, leaders from all levels are cultivated, from newcomers to administrators; risk-taking and innovation are encouraged, and communication is the highest priority. Communication is at the heart of collaboration.
Bridget attended two sessions on the general theme of women in leadership roles. Becoming a head of school provides for a more dynamic, higher-paying position, autonomy, opportunities to shape the school culture, and the chance to make an impact beyond the school. However, not many women serve in this capacity. Why?
Women often don't even apply for headships because they lack confidence; they feel they must be thoroughly prepared and are more reticent than men to take the risks that come with the job, in addition to the risk of relocating. Often women are deterred by certain tasks and skills required for headships, such as having difficult conversations, managing emotions on the job, developing financial savvy, speaking dynamically and effectively to an audience. Women are also hesitant to step out of the daily action of school life, and they are deeply concerned about the effect of the enormous time demands on their private and family life. A survey at the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University revealed that men are more willing to relocate for their work, and they assume they will learn what they need to know on the job. Additionally, our modern society still has trouble envisioning women in leadership positions; search committees, search firms, school trustees, and some school cultures remain biased.
Julie also attended a session called, "So You Think You Want to Be a Head of School" presented by a cohort of administrators from the Fellowship program at NAIS. Data over the past decade has revealed a general profile of heads currently working in independent schools. First, due to retirements, heads of school placements are increasing. No longer does a head need a background or masters in humanities; an education-related degree is still important while a significant financial background is not. About 50% of current heads came from previous interim or sitting head positions. The next highest group came from assistant head positions, then division heads (this has increased dramatically recently).
Schools want to hire as head of school an individual who is a great collaborator with faculty and community. Based on 70 current openings for NAIS schools, the presenters summarized the personal attributes the schools wish to see in their next heads. School communities want and need to be moved emotionally by an innovative, passionate, and articulate communicator, someone who shares the school's mission. The ideal head of school is approachable, a good listener, and has a good sense of humor.
The Search Associates in attendance found this year's NAIS conference to be very thought-provoking. Using the newly-acquired information, we plan to collaborate and apply the leadership strategies to Search Associates moving forward. This will aid in our effectiveness in continuing to be a leader in international education and assist us to better serve our candidates and schools.