CEO Notebook

Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO
Twitter: @shieldsNBOA

I Escaped! Three Takeaways for the Coming School Year

From Net Assets NOW, August 8, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

During a recent visit to Nashville for an NBOA Board of Directors meeting and preparations for the 2018 NBOA Annual Meeting, I was talked into trying a team-building trend popping up in city after city: the escape room.

The basics: You and a team of colleagues are locked into a room for 60 minutes and must make sense of a variety clues to get out. It sounded like a claustrophobic nightmare, but several members of the NBOA staff and NBOA Board Chair Tracey Fudge, director of finance and operations at Holton-Arms School, convinced me to give it a go. My reluctance was misplaced. The escape room was team-building on steroids and an experience that I won't forget. The theme of our room was "The Gold Rush," and it definitely offered a rush.

Here are three key takeaways from the experience for school leaders.

You don't need all the answers. I admit that I was a fish out of water in the escape room. I'm not a puzzle fanatic by any means. My initial strategy was to step back, since I'm already in a leadership role within the group. Wrong! Once a leader, always a leader. It was impossible for me to simply observe, but I quickly learned that I didn't have all the answers. In fact, I had very few. This was a great reminder that the most powerful solutions are often those identified by a small group of people. As leaders, our primary job is to draw out other team members to be part of the solution. How often, as a business officer, are you expected to have "the answer"? I challenge you to invite your team to help you find the answer, for your long-term professional success and that of your school.

You'll discover hidden talents if you make room to fail. We encountered a wide variety of tasks in the escape room: word puzzles, locks, even a shooting gallery. What most amazed me was how that variety allowed everyone to contribute. It was fascinating to see someone try to solve a puzzle, and, if they couldn't, let someone else give it a try. How often do we let individuals on our staff try something new, succeed or fail based on their individual skills and talents, and only after they have done their best let someone else step in to help? Once again, business officers are wired to solve problems, to jump in and fix things, but isn't it just as important to build that capacity in our teams?

Don't forget the debrief. We got out of the escape room with four minutes to spare. It was exhilarating. We naturally wanted to discuss the highs and lows, the funny moments, the frustrations — all of it! And I think that is what we should always do after a big accomplishment or even a failure. What worked? What did we learn? What would we do differently? What do we know about ourselves that we didn't before? Too often we simply move on to the next challenge without taking the time to learn from our experiences, good or bad.

The NBOA Annual Meeting has long provided opportunities for independent school business operations staff to build knowledge and relationships within their teams. As we look forward to spending time together in Nashville, next March 4-7, you might consider taking your team to the next level by visiting the Nashville Escape Room. You'll find it impossible to "escape" the leadership lessons!

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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