Partners in Leadership

Marcy Balogh and Cheryl Finkel

Board Chair: “An article about leadership, so I guess you should write it since you are the leader of the school.”

Head of School: “No, it seems clear to me that if they are talking about a leader, they are talking about you.”

Board Chair: “But not only do you run the operations of the school, you have great expertise related to day schools in general. You are in the best position to speak as the leader.”

Head of School: “The Board is responsible to provide the vision for the school. They elected you to serve as their leader. As Chair of the Board of Trustees, the school depends on you to lead our school into the future.”

Board Chair: “My role is term limited. Thus, you have the more significant voice.”

Head of School: “My voice alone is not adequate in leading.”

Board Chair and Head of School: “So, maybe we should be Partners in Leadership!”

The concept of partnership may appear easy; however, the actual implementation can be complex and challenging. Various metaphors illustrate the importance of this partnership – among our favorites are tennis doubles, and a three-legged race. In both of these metaphors there is no individual success without the team’s success; also both partners must be constantly aware of the other’s capabilities, constraints, and actions in order to make their own moves successful. Another nice partnership metaphor is a marriage. Here the important points center on communication:

  • No secrets
  • No surprises
  • No delayed information
  • Total loyalty
  • Total discretion and confidentiality

We invite you to explore the importance of this shared leadership model as well as “10 Top Tips” for making it work.

Crystal Clear Roles and Boundaries

We must begin with the fundamentals – with an understanding that Boards do governance and staff do operations. Thus, the leader of the Board and the leader of the staff must both have defined roles congruent with these responsibilities. However, this separation of roles is not always easy to maintain. Job descriptions for each of these positions should be articulated verbally and in writing. It works best when confusing or dissenting areas are identified early, preferably before a problem occurs. Resources related to roles definition and boundaries are plentiful. Check out the materials at,, and Also, local federations and non-profit associations often have Board workshops to support their agencies.

Vive la Difference:
You’ve Both Got Style

As if day schools are not complex enough, partnering is a challenge in any venue – schools, work or home. Board Chairs and Heads of School are wonderful, intelligent, and committed people. That said, some partnerships are easier “fits” than others. It is important to get to know your partner. That means really take the time to find out what makes your partner unique. Learn about each other’s history. Discuss your dreams. Explore ways that each of you like to work. Have you discussed when your partner prefers to meet? Meetings at 6:30 am are not everyone’s favorite. That said, not everyone is a night owl either. Do you know if your partner would prefer to communicate by email or phone? Should you use a work, cell or home number? These superficially simple details make a big difference. By dealing with your style preferences up front, you make dealing with the inevitable big, more stressful issues easier. We recommend using tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or other preference tools to structure these conversations. You might consider having a consultant or coach help facilitate and get you started on the right foot.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

So, you’ve been a Head of School for 20 years….or two years. It doesn’t make a difference. When it comes to your Board Chair, you must communicate (even if this is your 12th Board Chair). The same goes for you, the new (or not so new) Board Chair, you must set a time to meet. The success of your schools depends on this partnership. Do you have weekly meetings? Bi-weekly? Meet together to deal with specific issues, meeting planning as well as general support. You are each other’s most important supporter. To accomplish this partnership, regular and adequate communication is vital.

The “Ten Top Tips for Effective Partnerships” is a good place to begin. Enjoy the partnership experience–it will be good for you and your school! ♦

Ten Top Tips for Effective Partnerships

For the Head

  1. Recognize that it is your responsibility along with the Board Chair to keep the Board on task and in focus.
  2. Make sure you have consistent and timely meetings with the Board Chair and set up a calendar structure for these meetings to happen.
  3. Tell the Board Chair everything that is going wrong or may go wrong BEFORE the complaints come. If you are taking potentially controversial action – even when it’s clearly within your purview – use “sechel” (common sense) and give the Board Chair a heads-up.
  4. Be positive and supportive of the Board and its individual members in all public settings and events. Help educate the other constituencies of the school about the role and function of the Board of Trustees.
  5. Ask for support; share your needs; holding back information about realities of the demands on you (and other staff members) prevents the Board from doing its job effectively.

For the Board Chair

  1. Lead the Board in fulfilling its charge and in maintaining boundaries between the Head of School and Board roles. Specifically make clear that the Board does not generally function as a court of last appeal to overrule Head decisions, since it does not regulate day to day operations. Rather the role of the Board is to hold the school in trust; i.e., to finance the school and plan for its future.
  2. Tell the Head of School all the complaints you hear; you can be most supportive by not withholding information.
  3. Ensure that any disagreements with the Head are discussed in a private forum, with confidentiality. Public discord between Head and Board is never okay.
  4. Direct school problems to the attention of the appropriate school employee, usually the Head, and let the Head know you’ve done it.
  5. Accept that you will not fully understand the demands of the Headship, which absorbs pressures from competing constituencies, including the Board; therefore offer empathy and support at all times.
Cheryl Finkel is PEJE Senior Consultant in Atlanta, GA. Cheryl can be reached at [email protected] Marcy Balogh is a PEJE Coach in Denver, CO. Marcy can be reach at [email protected]
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HaYidion Board Leadership Winter 2007
Board Leadership
Winter 2007