CEO Notebook

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO
Twitter: @shieldsNBOA

6 Ways to Be the Leader Your School Needs in 2019

From Net Assets NOW, January 8, 2019. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

A new year is upon us. I always see the fall as a sprint — an intense burst packed with jobs to accomplish between the start of school and winter break. Winter and spring are more of a marathon, requiring a sustained commitment to do our work and achieve our goals before the academic year ends and summer is upon us.

As the longer stretch begins, I encourage you to consider something I consistently hear from school leaders as I travel the country. Over the last 10 years, heads of schools, boards of trustees and other leaders have truly come to value the work of business officers and business operations staff. They see the correlation between sound business functions, including financial operations, human resources compliance and facilities management, and the school’s ability to fulfill its mission and provide value to its students and families.

However, perhaps we have done our jobs too well. Because the trait that these leaders are now looking for in their business officers is leadership: a partner who will help them lead the school during increasingly challenging and complex times. Here are some helpful reminders of what makes a good leader. If you’re like me, you’ll find some of these qualities easier to demonstrate than others.

  1. Learn to listen. There is nothing more valuable for your colleagues, direct reports or students to know than the fact that you are listening. Yes, you can gain a lot of understanding and knowledge by listening, but you give in many other ways, thanks to your unique role at your school.
  2. Get comfortable delegating. This may be a challenge if you have limited staff resources, as most business officers do. But that’s also an opportunity to think about what you really need to do (be a strategic partner to your head of school and a leader within the learning community) and what you may be able to delegate to others to free up the time and bandwidth you need.
  3. Admit when you are wrong. My experience with business officers is that they take a lot of pride in solving problems and having answers. Given the rapid pace of our work environments, we may not always get it right in real time. It is okay to admit this! In fact, doing so will likely breed respect among your team and colleagues.
  4. Make time for your team. This is the one I will continue to work on with you. During our jam-packed days, we have individual responsibilities and team responsibilities. Sometimes we forget that the team responsibilities are critical and have a ripple effect throughout the organization. When your colleagues have something they want to discuss with you, look away from the screen, don’t take calls or look at your phone, and always make eye contact. This doesn’t mean that time has to be unlimited. Here’s a tip I learned: After the issue has been discussed and you have attended to the person, stand up as a signal that you have heard them, responded and will need to get back to what you were working on. It works when needed.
  5. – and 6. Stay calm under pressure, and get your hands dirty, respectively. You have these nailed already, or else you wouldn’t be a business officer.

As we start the new year, I hope this list serves as a helpful reminder for you to professionally take stock not only of what is on your to-do list, but also of how you can be the leader your school needs you to be. Happy 2019!

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO

Jeff has been NBOAs president and CEO since March 2010. Prior to joining NBOA, he spent almost 10 years at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), serving most recently as senior vice president and chief planning officer. An active member of the American Society of Association Executives, Jeff earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 2002 and was selected as an ASAE Fellow in 2008. He currently serves as a trustee for One Schoolhouse and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.

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