10 Mistakes Small Schools Make

by Eric Cook

Over 200 schools in SCL’s database are less than 10 years old. This means they are still in the turbulent, formative years. It is common to struggle during this time because there are so many priorities happening at once. Slowing down to think about process may feel important, but not urgent. Well, after many conversations over the last decade, both as a head of school and consultant, here are 10 often overlooked areas that probably need to change:

1. Confusing process and price school models.
Small schools tend to be idealistic and a little naive. They try to find their place in the community but often misjudge their school’s model by saying, “We will be the most authentic, transformative classical Christian education available AND be the most affordable school in town.” Those two notions, most likely, are on a crash course with reality. Price schools position themselves in their market as one of the more affordable options, but that means they give up certain programs, amenities, and cultural distinctives. Process schools focus on formation, but they are the most expensive, primarily because they require a higher adult-student ratio. It is very important that boards and school leadership work through this conversation and come to terms with the realities and limitations of whatever model you embrace. 

2. Assuming your culture can scale exactly how it is now.

Small schools are able to do things unique to their size. A pervading “family” feel resides, and everyone loves families. Well, that is, until all the cousins come in and crash the party. Instead of six people for dinner, you have 30. Suddenly, the same resources don’t cut it, and it feels like you have lost something precious. Your spring gala has to be held in the gym instead of the great room…and people are not happy. 

You can retain your mission and still change your facilities, policies, culture, events, and practices. In fact, in many cases, you have to, or your school will stagnate. The key is to capture the core of your mission, the principles you were built on, and then be able to adapt to the circumstances that growth demands. People, it turns out, are fickle. They are nostalgic about the past (even though they complained about things back then) and skeptical about the future (even though they are begging for the school to “grow up.”). Building on your past while adapting to the demands of the future is what leaders do. It’s what is necessary to build the culture you want, not the one that you discover once you start paying attention. 

3. Employing undisciplined admissions practices.

Set your re-enrollment deadline early (January/early February) or transition to continuous enrollment as soon as you can. However, do not allow families to re-enroll whenever they want. The only way to ensure your families meet the deadline you set is to create substantial penalties for missing it. If families do miss the deadline, do not let them out of their contracts (except for clearly stated exceptions, such as moving). It is not unChristian to enforce your policies. Just be sure to communicate them clearly. If you struggle with this, consider at least two things. One, while you may feel empathy for your families who change their mind, you should have an equal amount of empathy for your teachers who are dependent on the promised tuition dollars. Two, you cannot be a good steward of the school’s resources if you have 50 families in flux in May. None of your families would run their businesses that way, and you should not either.

4. Employing undisciplined budget practices.

Too many small schools set their budget after enrollment is complete. This is backwards. Create a cost-based budget in the fall, vote on a provisional budget in November, announce tuition in December. Then, hold a state of the school meeting in January (before re-enrollment) and demonstrate to your families what value and improvements are being added for their increased tuition. Once your enrollment is complete and all the numbers shake out, create a final budget for the start of your next fiscal year. 

5. Assuming you cannot raise money or tuition.

Yes, you can. You just can’t imagine being in a different spot than you are now. Consistently deliver your mission at a high level in the classroom, communicate with precision, shepherd your students with Christ-like love, form deep partnerships with your families, and create the most dynamic school culture in town. Then, go tell the story in a compelling way and watch what happens!

6. Under resourcing your leadership team.

Your leadership team is too small. Period. That is ok…for now. However, it cannot stay that way. It will cost you to add leaders who are not attached to a classroom of tuition-paying students. That is true. But, it will cost you more to run off the people who got you this far and to start over. I can tell you the pool of candidates you will be drawing from is an inch deep. If the candidates in that pool know you ran off the last guy, it is a much harder sell. Get the ISM leadership circle out and start envisioning your next 3-5 hires. Then, map those positions out in your strategic financial plan. 

7. Thinking “we are unique.” 

Ok, I hate to be the one to say this, but you aren’t. Embrace it, humble yourself, and start learning from others who have already made all of the mistakes you are making. 

8. Misunderstanding student support. 

As your school grows, you will inevitably adopt a wider range of learners. That wider range of learners will be represented among families, among siblings. When you cannot serve individual students, you cannot serve families. Decide what you believe about supporting struggling students. Do your homework and find out what other classical Christian schools are doing who have already wrestled through the issues. Figure out where your boundaries are and then be prepared to serve a broader range of students than you do now. If you want to be a small school for elite students, that is fine. But, don’t pretend like every student who comes in the door will be equally capable of meeting the expectations you have set for the 25 students in your current upper school. 

9. Assuming your Head will know how to grow with the school.

Being a head of school at 150 students is not the same job as being a head of 300 students. Once your school exceeds 200 students, things change. You will have to add more leaders. That will be hard because these positions will not come with a classroom full of tuition paying students. As you add more key leaders, your head will have to spend more time with them and less time with other people. That will be noticed and felt, not only by the school community, but the head as well. In some ways, it will feel disorienting and definitely overwhelming. When the school breaks the 200 threshold the head will also need to start focusing more externally to help with facilities planning, fundraising, and governance. All of these changes will require a different skill set than what has been needed to lead so far. Your head will need encouragement, training, support, and mentoring. 

10. Watching your school grow while your governance model doesn’t.

It is very common for boards to downshift into neutral once the school becomes more established. While that is understandable on one hand (given the amount of sweat you put in to get it this far), it is simply not realistic. Boards must transition from an operational board to a governing board in order to meet the challenges present in the next phase of growth. Schools who pass the 200 threshold hit a cluster of challenges all at once. They must find/build new facilities, create a master plan, raise money, rethink the financial model, and a host of other things that require vision, strategy, and wisdom. The board’s job is to make the school sustainable and mission-faithful for generations. Developing systems and infrastructure at the board and executive leadership level will be key to fulfilling the board’s purpose.

A Broken System

Six Critical Governance Issues We Often Ignore in Our Schools
By Eric Cook

  1. The relationship between the board chair and the head of school is the most important relationship in the school. To build trust and work together, this relationship needs time and attention. Unfortunately, the average tenure for a head of school is still short (3-6 years), leading to frequent turnover. It is vital to have a board chair who can work with the Head of School for an extended period, providing stability and support. I spoke to a board chair today who has been in his role for 12 years. His head of school has been in her role for over 25. This is not an accident, but it is a rarity. If we keep recycling board chairs, we will keep recycling heads of school.
  2. The Governance Committee, which many boards do not have (or know exists), is the most important committee on a board. This committee helps the board manage leadership and officer transitions, proposes optimal term limits, educates the board about good governance, and evaluates the board’s effectiveness. If boards will educate themselves on these simple, accessible practices, boards can benefit schools, leaders, and ultimately the students we serve, in ways beyond measure.
  3. The average board chair serves a two-year term. This is a mistake. The head of school suffers the most from this turnover gauntlet. It takes time to figure out what a chair does, and by the time they do, they are out of their role. Term limits were created to get rid of bad trustees. If board members become ineffective, lazy, or rogue, ask them to step off. But, don’t create systemic dysfunction because we don’t like having hard conversations.
  4. Board member terms have become shorter as boards have become busier. Why can’t a board chair serve longer than two years? Because they are exhausted and asked to do things that the Governance Committee should be doing.
  5. The vast majority of Heads do not survive their fourth board chair. If the average board chair term is two years, we can see why head tenure is short as well. The math is simple. Maybe the solution is not that complicated either.
  6. Short head of school tenures keep schools from thriving. Head turnover is disruptive, it hurts faculty morale, it costs a fortune, it breeds distrust and resistance to change, and it makes the next head’s job harder.

Unfortunately, many of our schools continue to perpetuate a broken system. We cannot ignore these foundational best practices if we want our classical Christian schools to thrive. At SCL, we can help you figure this out. If you are interested in learning more about how one of our consultants can walk you through these issues, please reach out to Marissa Yanaga (marissa@societyforclassicallearning.org) to set up a call.

10 Reasons Every Head of School Should Hire a Coach

By Eric Cook

When I was a Junior at Transylvania University, I worked in the athletic office. One day, a man came in and told me the gym was going to be locked for the next two hours because the Kentucky basketball team was going to be using it for practice. I nearly fell out of my chair! Having grown up in Lexington, I was (am) a rabid Wildcat fan. Besides that, the team was loaded with the best talent in the country (they won the national championship that year). My little office was attached to the gym, and they did not ask me to leave!

Before long, the best team in college basketball walked in our pathetic little gym. Of course, alongside the team was their coach, Rick Pitino. I was the only person in the facility besides the team and staff. I watched for two hours as coach Pitino yelled, cussed, instructed, and lost his mind on his elite-level athletes. There was no letting up the entire two hours. I remember him saying repeatedly that they would practice at nothing less than game-level intensity. The level of focus and precision was incredible and unrelenting. In those two hours, I was able to observe what top-tier coaching really looked like. It was both painful and exhilarating.

I realize very few people have access to elite level coaching of any kind. Not only do most Heads lack accessibility to an elite level coach, but most have never had one at all (over 60% according to the SCL’s latest Head survey). However, one does not need only an elite level coach to improve. There is a deep well of great leadership resources available to anyone who wants them. No doubt, every Head of School is thinking about how they can get better at what they do. Every Head is thinking about improvement because they know, if they are honest with themselves, that they don’t have anywhere near the knowledge, skills, abilities, and wisdom necessary to do everything well. In fact, there is a high likelihood most Heads carry around a strong sense of inadequacy most of the time. 

I contend that the Head of School job is as challenging a job as any leader can take. So, do the wise thing and hire someone to give you high quality support, instruction, and feedback!

Two points of disclosure before I make my passionate plea for executive leaders to hire a coach! First, I was the recipient of excellent executive coaching over an extended period during my time as a Head. It was transformative for me as a leader, and thus, I am very biased. I have been advocating for Heads to seek coaching ever since. Second, I coach Heads of School as part of my consulting work at SCL. Having said that, I strongly encourage every key leader in a classical Christian school to hire a coach, especially if you are a first-year Head. 

Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Even the best performers in the world have coaches. No matter what level of success one has achieved, no one is beyond a coach. The best athletes, the highest performing executives, the best musicians in the world, all have a coach. You can never see your weaknesses and you can always get better, but you cannot do it alone. Invite someone who is farther down the path to help you get better.
  1. A coach will help you go farther, faster. Getting a coach does not mean you are doing something wrong. It does not mean you are ineffective. It means you can still get better and that you will get better faster with someone looking in from the outside. You will see things you did not see before. You will ask yourself questions about things you have taken for granted for too long. And, the improvement will happen faster than you could ever manage on your own.
  1. Hiring a coach will improve your leadership simply by asking you thoughtful questions. Coaches don’t just dole out prescriptions and solutions. They help the leader make sense of the situations and complexities they face. They help the Head reason through the issues and figure out their own meaningful path to the right decision. Your coach should be excellent at asking questions and wisely guiding you towards wisdom, not dictating solutions that will evaporate when he/she leaves.
  1. Coaches can give you access to the experience and wisdom you lack. One problem, especially for younger/newer Heads, is that you cannot generate the experience you need to lead well. The stakes are high. Some mistakes can cost you your credibility, your dignity, and/or your job. Your board chair has never been a Head. Likely, no one in the school has been a Head either. Getting access to someone who has done the job, can provide you with context, knowledge, skills, and nuance is absolutely critical. You need wisdom and experience and since you cannot manufacture that, hiring a coach is your best option.
  1. By mere reflection and attention, your coach will make you better. Richard Chait argues that, at minimum, non-profit boards make institutions better merely by organizing a gathering called a board meeting. The process of asking where are we?, how are things going?, what can we do better?, etc. at least increases the likelihood that things will indeed improve. The same is true for small groups, reading groups, going to music rehearsal, and just about everything else. Coaching will require you to walk through a process of reflection and accountability that you don’t normally conduct on your own. You will improve and other leaders around you will improve as well.
  1. Coaching will help become more self-aware and better able to manage yourself. When you have a good coach, their questions will become your own. You will internalize the areas of improvement that were ingrained in you through the process. You will be more cognizant of your deficiencies, more empathetic towards others, and more in control of your emotions. By being more self-aware, you will become a better leader.
  1. By hiring a coach, you will become a better coach. Coaches will teach you how to manage yourself (as mentioned above), but being coached will help you do a better job of leading others. You will inevitably employ the same things you learned to your direct reports and make your own team better. Coaching can be an immense personal encouragement. Almost every Head of School struggles with loneliness and isolation. It is extraordinarily helpful and supportive to be engaged with someone who has done what you do, something a Head rarely has the time, opportunity, or access to. Thus, you will become a better coach by hiring a coach.
  1. An executive coach will increase the likelihood for meaningful change. As leaders, the people we lead have a vested interest in NOT telling us what we need to hear. Turns out, we have the same issue. We often tell ourselves what we want to hear because the alternative is not very desirable. By identifying clear goals, finding areas of improvement, and digging deep into how your strengths and weaknesses impact those around you and your school, you will increase the likelihood of real improvement.
  1. Coaching is biblical. The discipleship model is ordered around shepherding, modeling, instructing, admonishing, and counsel. Jesus instructed his disciples through small, intimate relationships over an extended period of time. Paul mentored Timothy and became a powerful source of influence in his leadership. Christian mentorship provides a foundation for a deep, gospel-centered approach. A biblical mentor provides the context for both profound deficiencies and real hope for meaningful change.
  1. A great coach can be an important bridge and mediator for Heads and boards. In every coaching engagement I have been a part of, I am able to help the board chair understand more about who the Head is, how they lead, and how better to coach them. I have also helped them better understand the Head’s value, renegotiate their contract, and understand the critical role of the board to serve their Head through a high functioning Head Support and Evaluation Committee. Boards would do well to understand the value of coaching as it pertains to their ability to lead and serve the most important position in the school.

Hiring a coach will make you a better leader, and likely, that commitment to improvement will trickle down to your entire school. Of course, hiring a coach is an investment. It is not cheap to hire one, and it should not be.

Discuss and pray about it with your board. SCL is happy to provide a strong bench of seasoned leaders who can coach any Head of School and your other key leaders. If you are interested in pursuing this, please reach out to us so you can go farther, faster.

Redeeming the Time

Redeeming the Time, a collection of excellent lectures that Russell Kirk delivered at the Heritage Foundation, includes one that is particularly insightful. It is called, The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education. Kirk defines liberal education as the “ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person.” He says that a liberal education:

  •      Takes the long view
  •      Provides an understanding of what it means to be human
  •      Defends the order of the soul and the republic
  •      Fosters harmony with the self
  •      Cultivates a philosophical habit of mind
  •      Develops the imagination
  •      Looks back toward antiquity and forward to posterity
  •      Knows the value of things
  •      Fosters a lifetime of learning
  •      Models the proper use of leisure
  •      Aims towards wisdom and virtue
  •      Conserves a body of knowledge

That is a great list! Kirk’s essay would be an informative read for you and your faculty. It is also relevant to SCL’s summer conference theme. Enjoy!

Announcing the 2023 SCL Thriving Schools Study

I am very excited to announce the launch of SCL’s Thriving Schools Study. Today, we sent out a survey to over 500 hundred Heads of School to evaluate the leadership health and needs of the movement. The survey is the only such instrument directed specifically at classical Christian school leaders.

It is our desire that this survey will help us provide targeted support, resources, and professional development for leaders to meet the challenges they face. We also intend to use the results to educate classical Christian schools about the state of leadership in the movement. Ultimately, we pray this project will help us contribute to the sustainability of classical Christian schools by investing in the leaders critical to their success.

I am thankful for the work of Dr. Brian Polk, Research Director at SCL. Brian built the survey and facilitated the process to ensure essential data is collected. I would also like to thank Dr. Albert Cheng, Assistant Professor at the Department of Education Reform in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Cheng directs the Classical Education Research Lab and will be providing a comprehensive analysis and report when the survey is complete.

SCL is committed to strengthening the leadership of the classical Christian school movement. We believe that we must have strong leaders for our schools to thrive and for our families to be served well. If you are a Head of School, we are asking you to please participate by taking the survey. If you are not Head of School, please encourage your Head to take it. We are grateful for your support!

A Broad Perspective

Immanuel Kant, the dense and controversial 18th century German philosopher, railed his students for being Cyclops. “What constitutes them as Cyclops is not their strength,” Fredeirich Paulsen points out, “but the fact that they only have one eye; they see things only from a single standpoint, that of their own specialty.” The task of philosophy and learning, according to Kant, is to furnish us with a second eye. According to Kant, “The second eye is the self-knowledge of human reason, without which we can have no proper estimate of the extent of our knowledge.” While we may argue with Kant concerning the identity of the second eye, or what it should be, his point that education broadens one’s perspective is indisputable.
The classics “lift the readers out of narrowness and provincialism into a wider vision of humanity.” They help us see our lives, our vocations, and our culture through a broad lens. Polymaths such as Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Milton, and Jefferson were able to draw from a sea of ideas found in the ancients. They studied math, science, history, economics, theology, philosophy, literature, and virtually everything else. From their broadly informed perspectives, the great thinkers of the West were able to make incredible contributions to society and move from one subject to another with ease and enjoyment. Their immersion in and facility with the classics provided a liberating, expansive, two-eyed vision that enriched their understanding and mitigated the narrow short-sightedness of specialization and provincialism.
Our prayer at The Society for Classical Learning is that our kids will be equipped with a strong foundation and a broad perspective to serve for the glory of God. We are fully invested in catalyzing and resourcing a rapidly growing movement of schools around the country. Let us know how we can help!

Attempting Old Ideals

In What’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton said, “The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

I find Chesterton illuminating and prophetic as he critiques the modern who sees the blank wall in front of him because he dares not attempt or wrestle with what has come before. But, I also see in Chesterton’s words a caution for all of us classical Christian educators, to give due respect to the past as we look with anticipation toward the opportunities and possibilities in front of us.

There are two things that come to mind as I consider Chesterton’s insight about the future. First, is the “modern attitude,” as Chesterton calls it. He states that “men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals.” Although he was not necessarily talking about education, the principle certainly applies. The perpetual fallacy that progressives make when approaching education is what I call the “rearview mirror” fallacy. Ken Robinson, in his popular TED talk, Changing Educational Paradigms, emphatically states, “We can’t look in the rearview mirror to develop a coherent plan for the future of education.” Robinson and many others tell us that the world is quickly changing, and so we must re-imagine what future schooling looks like to meet the needs of the 21st century. However, Robinson readily admits he has no idea what the future will actually look like.

C.S. Lewis would call these moderns progressives snobs, committed to the supposition that the latest innovations represent the best of ideas in a given field. However, as Chesterton said, “Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root.” We should not think of the past as a cage, but a catapult. A rearview mirror is essential. It provides a way for us to back up so that ultimately we can go forward. Progressives assume that all looking back is an end in itself and that the future is thus a “blank wall.” They minimize the rich tradition and history of educational thinkers in the West and as a result, assume that because the culture is different, the problems are new. They are guilty of perpetually cleaning the slate (and now they have applied this idea to the human person). Progressives have not discovered educational issues that are “new;” they have rejected the past as a meaningful path to the future. If we are going to attempt old ideals, we must understand that looking back is a necessary condition for moving forward.

The 2023 Outlook

Happy New year from all of us at SCL!

As I look forward to 2023, I am excited about the continued growth and expansion of classical Christian education (CCE). Here is what I have seen in 2022:

  • Large increases in enrollment across the country
  • Increased international interest
  • Launching of many new classical Christian schools
  • Greater number and quality of thought leaders in the movement
  • Depth, clarity, and maturity around the philosophy of CCE
  • Larger number of strong, established schools
  • Excellent bench of developing Heads (not enough of them, but excellent leaders nonetheless)
  • Emerging visionary leaders in the movement

At the Society for Classical Learning, we are refining our vision, resources, and support to ensure that the encouraging trends above continue. Here is a snapshot of what we are planning for 2023 and beyond:

  • Release of our new strategic plan
  • Completely new website with more features and expanded resources
  • Expanded consulting services
  • Increased leadership trainings and programs
  • Release of a new and unique leadership study for classical Christian schools
  • Expanded membership value and thought leadership resources
  • Formation of strategic partnerships
  • Clear articulation of what constitutes a thriving classical Christian school

Of course, there are vulnerabilities and weaknesses I see in the movement as well. I will share those in a future post. There are many reasons to be encouraged about the future of CCE! 

The Board and Head Relationship

by Eric Cook

In my work with school leaders (especially Heads) and boards, there is a two-sided problem that I consistently observe.

First, Because the Head of School is responsible for “everything,” boards are not sure how to adequately evaluate their performance. Consequently, they sometimes create unwieldy, unrealistic evaluation tools that try to cover too much. Or, they make the process far too organic and anecdotal. Of course, sometimes boards just don’t evaluate the Head at all. If you are guilty of the latter, be prepared to find a new Head at any moment.

The other side of the same issue is that because Heads are responsible for “everything,” they too have a hard time narrowing their focus and figuring out how to add the greatest value to the school. So, they often scramble around doing the most urgent thing, being overly accommodating to people and issues, and probably feeling inadequate and unproductive most of the time.

Here are a few things every board and Head can do (collaboratively) to be more focused and evaluate the Head’s work more meaningfully:

1. Know your core competencies – Any leader is only really good at a handful of things. If you know what those things are (and you should), you can get laser focused on how you can be most productive and valuable to your school. You can and should orient your time, people, and priorities around these competencies and continue to develop them. Make sure you don’t spend too much time on tasks at which you will only ever be marginally proficient.

2. Know your context – Your priorities, beyond your core competencies, are often dictated by a handful of variables that dictate you provide more time, effort, and focus. If you are about to enter a capital campaign, know that your time and energies will have to go there and be content to say no to a bunch of other good things.

3. Define the essentials of the role – Every board should have a clear baseline of the skills, abilities, and character that every Head should be expected to do. Define what these are first (with the Head’s input) and then ensure they are being assessed annually.

4. Define a few critical strategic objectives for the school year. Your board should have a short list (3-5) of things that are most important to advancing the strategic plan. Then, provide support and accountability for your Head knowing that means you cannot start drumming up a bunch of other priorities along the way.

5. 360 – On a periodic basis, a thorough 360 should be done. I do these as a consultant and find them very powerful (when done well). It helps tremendously to have someone facilitate this process.

These are critical issues. Take them seriously and invest what it takes to develop, care for, and assess your school leaders!

Generative Thinking: The Most Important Work a Board Can Do

For several years, I have pushed every board I encounter to read the book, Governance as Leadership. It is not only an insightful read for best practices regarding governance, but it is particularly important because it also provides much needed historical context for how boards have become so complacent and ineffective over time. There are great questions and exercises included in the text which push boards to consider their purpose, effectiveness, and decision making processes. The author, Richard Chait, advocates for what he calls, “tri-modal governance.” The three modes of governance are called fiduciary, strategic, and generative.

The fiduciary mode is in view when the board exercises its legal responsibilities of oversight and stewardship. The second is the strategic mode, in which the board makes major decisions about resources, programs, and services. The third, and most important, is the “generative” mode, in which the board engages in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, contemplating values, considering principled options, and weighing new ideas in the view of the school’s mission.

Chait argues that the fiduciary and strategic modes are largely what boards spend their time doing, but alone, are incomplete. They are necessary, but not sufficient because they leave out expressive aspects of the organization. The issues schools face need values and insights; questions need to be framed around the right, mission-focused principles. For this, a board needs to engage in the generative mode.

Chait says generative work needs to shape the fiduciary and strategic work of the board. Before boards “use various forms of managerial expertise to solve problems, organizations need to figure out which problems need solving. Before they figure out the best strategy for getting from the present to a preferred future, organizations need to figure out what that preferred future is.”

Here is one quick example: many boards contemplate the kind of financial aid system that would be most effective and appropriate for their school. However, instead of beginning with the fundamental philosophical question of why there is a financial aid program in the first place, what often happens is a committee is formed and a host of possible options are drawn up for consideration. Instead of asking how the mission of the school would be impacted by various means of financial aid options, the options are considered with no meaningful conversation about the most important question of all: why do we do financial aid at all and how will changes either help us advance the mission or obscure it?

Generative governance is most important because it focuses the board’s attention on the most important questions. In this sense, it provides the best use of the board’s talent, helps the Head think in a mission-focused way, and generates the need for decisions to be made. According to Chait, “Generative work conveys the gift of helping executives see things better, improving their perception and perspective so that they are in a better position to invent new goals, to discard old goals, to better see problems and to discard problems that really are not that important in the long run.” 

To focus on what matters most, ask yourself whether your board is engaged in ongoing, meaningful generative conversations.