In my new position, I had to understand and optimize board function, engage with a much broader range of constituents, identify and articulate the school’s mission and vision, together with a host of other new responsibilities. I had to do so in a context in which I followed a longstanding leader who had built the school from infancy and was now being asked to introduce some meaningful second order change. There was simply nothing in my preexisting toolkit that could prepare me adequately for those many charges. I know that many other leaders have experienced similar challenges in one form or another.
The question, then, is simple. If we are to assume that many of our leaders – professional and lay – would benefit from increased, targeted leadership training as well as support, guidance and a listening ear in the form of committees, coaches, consultants or something similar, why are we not providing it on a more consistent basis?
Why is it that only a small number of leadership programs exist, and that the ones we do have are often limited in their focus or capacity? Why don’t we work to ensure that every person charged with advancing the institutional mission must immerses him or herself in understanding how to navigate complex organizational entities in rapidly shifting times and then provide these men and women the time and resources to do so? Do we not want these leaders to be fully capable of leading their charges from “Good to Great,” for the ultimate benefit of our children and our communities?
I suspect there are a few reasons for this attitude. One is the absence of funding. You are likely aware that most if not all of our schools receive (frequently significant) dollars through No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a federally funded program designed to provide academic support for students in the form of small group instruction and coaching in schools. They also receive monies (normally on a more modest scale) for such things as professional development (PD) trainings for teachers as well as educational materials. This is in addition to dollars that have traditionally been budgeted by schools from their own coffers for this purpose.
In contrast, our schools receive no monies toward leadership training. All leadership PD must be funded by individual leaders, their organizations, and/or a sponsoring agency or foundation. With perpetually tight budgets forcing administrators and their boards to make difficult fiduciary decisions, leadership-related investments tend to get placed squarely on the back burner.
Time constraints are another factor. It can be extremely difficult for leaders to get away or to even carve out the sustained time necessary to read, engage and be thoughtful, reflective practitioners. In the case of school principals, there are countless activities to attend to, not to mention the many “fires” that require routine extinguishment.
Lay leaders are themselves extremely busy, volunteering their time above and beyond what they must budget for their professional and personal responsibilities. Rabbanim and other leaders often serve as chief fundraisers, chief programmers and chief recruiters on top of being chief executives.
A third component is culture. The corporate world is littered with coaches, consultants and motivational speakers who are engaged to enhance function and inspire productivity. It is not uncommon for executives to have one or more personal coaches, nor is it unusual for human resource departments to provide ongoing leadership training and professional development to company employees.
Hiring motivational speakers and authors to come to the workplace to offer insight and inspiration is also relatively common, particularly within larger enterprises. There is an intrinsic motivation toward excellence; improved leadership is seen as the difference between success and failure, between small margins and larger ones, and external supports are viewed as one primary way by which to increase productivity and enhance the bottom line.