New Year, New Skills: School Leadership Competencies for 2024!

by Peter Baron

On New Year’s Eve, I published three competencies that are becoming increasingly important to school operations to ​LinkedIn​, and… it seemed to resonate.

Close to two dozen comments later, I decided to start 2024 by revisiting it here, but with a slight twist. I enriched the post with a few of the brilliant recommendations shared in the comments (thanks to everyone who added to the conversation!).

Key Competencies to Strengthen and Develop for 2024

Independent school leadership is not a walk in the park. It’s a fascinating blend of chess, diplomacy, and tightrope walking.

This is all based on talking with more than 80 current and former heads of school. The role gains more complexity each year, not less.

Let’s take a moment to consider a set of three competencies (plus two bonus recommendations) becoming increasingly crucial to managing school operations.

1. Business Acumen: Understand the mechanics of the business world, not just in theory, but in practice. Grasp the subtleties of financial management, strategic planning, and operations. While our schools are non-profits, we need to make more than we spend.

2. Marketing: In a world of sound bites and Instagram filters, perception is reality. Dedicate time to understanding how to position your school in the best light, telling compelling stories that resonate with parents and prospective students. It’s not just about the “product”; it’s about the packaging.

3. Enrollment: Enrollment is the lifeblood of your school. It’s not just the numbers; it’s who’s behind those numbers. Develop or revisit a strategic enrollment plan that speaks to the community you hope to build, providing them with the right experiences at the right time. It’s all about helping families understand fit.

Here’s where I ended the recommendations, but the magic of our independent school community took these to the next level.

4. Leadership Training: Susanne Carpenter, ​Carpenter Leadership Consulting​, offered a great point. Leadership, in its essence, should be a canvas of opportunity at all levels, not just the apex, echoing the rich tapestry of inclusivity and growth:

I think one of the biggest challenges in independent schools is that we wait until someone is in the Head of School role to provide the professional development needed to succeed in this changed landscape. Schools and boards need to be willing and open to providing this type of development much further down into the organization so that leaders at all levels are keenly aware of the business of running a school.”

5. Mentorship: Carla Silver, ​Leadership + Design​, wrote that as the role (Head of School) gets more complex, executive-level mentorship, especially from outside independent schools, becomes more critical. I couldn’t agree more:

“It’s a completely different job than it was even 10 years ago. I think search consultants and boards need to be really clear on how they will support the development of these skills and also Heads can learn a lot (probably more) from looking outside education to develop these competencies. Find mentors who are CEOs of mid-sized companies and learn from them.”

Many ​more recommendations are in the comments​, so I encourage you to scroll to see what resonates with you.

But, I’ll leave you with this: Leading an independent school is a high-stakes, high-reward endeavor. Cultivate these competencies, and you won’t just endure; you’ll excel.

With the start of the new year, now’s the perfect time to take inventory. Which of these competencies do you plan to develop further?

Here’s to a year of growth and reflection!

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