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!