Schools should operate differently. Most new Heads arrive to find a leadership group (admin team, Head's council, etc.) in place and managing the day to day operations of the school. They represent her or his key support group and source of information. They will also be nervous and uncertain as to how their roles might change under a new Head. The most important task of an incoming leader is to get this group on-side as quickly as possible. While some inexperienced Heads believe that they should automatically have their respect and unwavering loyalty by virtue of their position, most veteran school leaders understand that respect and loyalty are earned, not demanded.
The first few months are critically important in nurturing this relationship. Both sides should be going out of their way to demonstrate their mutual respect, and support for one another. If there are weaknesses or gaps on the team, the incoming Head can move to strengthen their expertise either through directed PD, or the strategic addition of one or two new team members with those missing key pieces. Whatever she or he does, it is critically important to maintain that cabinet solidarity for at least the first year. It takes at least that long to determine which members have the depth of expertise that the school needs, and which are big talkers who produce little of value to the organization.
The key to all of this is to think of the school as a whole. The leadership team should not be perceived (in your mind or theirs) to be serving at the "pleasure of the Head". Quite the opposite, they should be encouraged to challenge and question; to propose new ideas and initiatives; to warn you when you are stepping into a well-known minefield; and, to have enough independent credibility with the faculty and staff in order to be able to support you publicly when you screw up (which you will!). It is a truism of leadership that while "B" calibre leaders surround themselves with a "C" level team who look to her or him as their inspirational leader and guide; "A" level leaders surround themselves with an "A+" team who make them look good, and do great things for the school. While a weak or inexperienced team is only as good as the Head who leads them, a strong team carries the Head along for the ride. Only with a strong, experienced team in place and functioning effectively, can a new Head actually make significant, and lasting, positive change for the school.
Heads who reject experience in favour of subservience or, as Donald Trump has done in the past, pick style over substance, do so at their peril. The school suffers, and if it is being run like a "one-man" show, you know who will be the first to go!
As the President Trump and the U.S. House of Representatives struggle this week to cobble together a plan for the passage of the AHCA, in the next post we will begin take a look at how an incoming Head can manage change without sacrificing her or his principles.