CEO Notebook

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO
Twitter: @shieldsNBOA

3 Habits of Innovative K-12 Business Officers

From Net Assets NOW, October 10, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

As I prepare for the 2018 NBOA Annual Meeting, I have an opportunity to interview Josh Linkner, our opening keynote speaker and best-selling author of books including "The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation." While the theme of the meeting is "In Tune with Excellence," I'm counting on Josh to help us all get "In Tune with Innovation." So it's no surprise that a blog by Brian Fleming called "The 7 Habits of Successful Academic-Innovation Leaders" caught my eye.

Fleming's list stems from a conversation among 30 academic-innovation leaders in a group called Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners (HAIL) Storm. Several of their "habits" (inspired by Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People") struck me as especially on point for business officers and our unique roles involving reinvention and innovation at independent schools.

Develop an intrapreneurial vision. "Always start with who are you and what are you trying to accomplish day-to-day," wrote Fleming. Although "innovators are not market-minded opportunists… [we must] push boundaries and take risks." I believe that business officers can play key roles in sparking innovation at our schools by partnering with other leaders to find new ways to fulfill our missions — for instance, through constructive new uses of technology, our facilities or the financial resources we provide to other staff and faculty.

Make it rain. This is squarely in the wheelhouse of business officers. While innovation requires us to "scan the horizon for what's next," Fleming encourages innovators to "value ideas for their viability and market potential." To that end, it's critical that innovators be financially literate — to "balance budgets, monitor the bottom line, and steward our resources." I couldn't agree more. Too often we assume that innovation and fiscal responsibility are at odds. I happen to reject that notion. The simple fact is that our schools can't afford to innovate in ways that jeopardize our financial sustainability, underscoring the need for business officers to be involved at the very inception of the innovation process.

Thrive in the gray. This is my personal favorite, but it may challenge some business officers. I believe the ability to operate within ambiguity is a critical leadership competency and in fact should be the mantra for innovation within schools. Yes, it's important to ask tough questions. But we don't have all the answers, and we sometimes need the flexibility to experiment and find solutions along the way.

NBOA is deeply committed to developing an innovative mindset among our membership. This was a significant topic of discussion during the most recent strategic planning meetings of the NBOA Board of Directors, and it's a key reason we identified Josh to kick off the 2018 NBOA Annual Meeting. Independent schools need innovation, perhaps more than ever, and business officers must be partners and catalysts for it.

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO

Jeff has been NBOA's 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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