HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Leadership from Within

by Betty Winn and Larry Kligman Issue: Attending the Crisis of Leadership
TOPICS : Leadership

Where should schools look for its leaders and how should they be cultivated? The current and future heads of California’s Heschel Day School describe a successful process of transition within the school.

When a school develops leadership from within, it can ensure a continuity of vision, a familiarity of culture, and a comfort level important for fundraising and enrollment.

But Moses said to G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And G-d said, “I will be with you.

“The majority of recruiting is reactive,” writes David Hakala in HRWorld. “An opening occurs and the recruitment process kicks in to fill an immediate need for talent.” Instead, he notes, “recruiting should be proactive, looking ahead to the future to see what talent will be needed in key areas… and taking steps now to fill those needs.”

The Jewish community day school world needs to apply this principle of proactivity. Unanticipated head of school turnover is all too frequent, and even in the best of situations, transitions occur all the time. If a school is thoughtful and planful about meeting its present and future needs for leadership, it will have greater success than if it merely reacts to events that occur.

Although change is a given within any school, it is not always embraced in the most productive ways, especially by faculty and parents. We all know that a major change in senior leadership can be a time of reflection, growth, and new vision. Yet when the change originates from someone new to the school, it often creates anxiety, speculation, and uncertainty. Students are resilient, yet their parents and our faculties and staff may have a more difficult time when there is a complete shift at the helm. This can result in poor morale along with higher than normal student and faculty attrition.

However, when a school looks “inside” and develops leadership from within it can often result in a “win-win” situation. Now the school can retain and promote a valued leader and in doing so ensure a continuity of vision, a familiarity of culture, and a comfort level for many constituents, which is especially important for fundraising and enrollment.

In this article, we propose that the best place to look for future leadership is within the school itself. Succession planning involving cultivation and promotion from within can not only help solve the leadership crisis, but has the ancillary benefit of enhancing morale and productivity within the school, as talented teachers and administrators position themselves to move up a career ladder.

Succession planning requires a series of steps that must be implemented carefully in order for the process to be successful. Based upon lessons learned from a previous less-than-easy transition, we offer the following guidance from procedures we implemented to assure that the next transition would be smooth and positive. What we are trying to build in this model is the support necessary for when the big challenges come.

  • Identify someone in your school who has innate leadership skills that can be nurtured. Perhaps there’s an administrator on the team who has a real talent for leadership.
  • Start a conversation with that person about what leadership would mean. Would s/he want to be a school head? What would it take to get there?
  • Invest in this person through leadership training utilizing local and national organizations in the field. AVI CHAI funded programs such as DSLTI, Project SuLaM, leadership programs through Harvard’s Principal’s Center, and NAIS’s Aspiring Heads Fellowship are examples of outstanding resources.
  • Provide opportunities for the future leader to engage in the many governance, development, and strategic activities that are involved in headship: budgeting, performance reviews and contracting with faculty, participation on board committees and attendance at meetings, interactions with all constituents including donors, grandparents, and alumni, assuming responsibility for larger projects within the community, involvement with administrative groups in the independent school world and within the Jewish community.
  • Communicate with your board chair and your head support committee. Make nurturing leadership within the school one of your goals as a head of school.
  • When it becomes clear that this person is a right choice, ready to take on the challenges of leadership, present his or her candidacy to the head support committee, letting them know your intentions and timeline and suggesting that this person would be a worthy successor.
  • Provide opportunities for the internal leader to meet one-on-one with the board chair and select members of the board to allow them to look at the candidate with this specific goal in mind.
  • Put together a transition team with members consisting of various constituencies of the school to evaluate whether to do a search or to appoint the nominee of the current leader. Our committee consisted of several members of the executive committee along with past board leaders. This is a vitally important and difficult task, since it is potentially undermining to both sides. The board needs to get to know the candidate and to vet him or her before determining if s/he would be the best person for the position or whether to do a search. Allow enough time for the transition team to do its work. (In our case, it took about two months.)
  • Once the executive committee makes a recommendation, the person should be presented to the entire board for their review and vote.
  • Should the board approve the candidate, determine a timeline and strategic plan for the transition. Allow the appropriate amount of time and provide for support for both the current head and the head-elect. In our case, we have changed the structure of the administration to add an associate head position which will allow the head-elect to work with the current head for a full school year to see the school through the “head’s eyes.” Make the head-elect part of the conversations and decision-making on big issues involving students, faculty, strategic issues, etc.
  • Before any decisions are made, confidentiality is critical. Once there is a determination for moving forward, communication is essential. Communication must be clear, ongoing and as transparent as possible.
  • Create a transition team. Assure that board leadership is not new at the same time the head is new. Work to assure a seamless transition. Remember that the new leader will have his or her own leadership style.
  • Provide ongoing mentoring support for the new head through RAVSAK or other avenues.

Finally, remember: leadership is both innate and learned. Even Moses needed help.♦

Betty Winn is the head of school, and Larry Kligman is the assistant head of school, at the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, California. They can be reached at betty_winn@ajhds.com and Larry_Kligman@ajhds.com.

Go To the Next Article

Developing Leaders, Not Replacements

This third article in the series, by the founder of Moishe House, argues that the crisis lies not in the number of......


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Attending the Crisis of Leadership

Day school leadership, especially headship, confronts all kinds of crises: regular school crises, driven by finances or parents; short tenure (averaging 2.5 years); limited pool of qualified applicants; and an impossible workload with little room for family life. These articles analyze aspects of the problem and offer remedies that professionals and lay leaders might implement in their schools.

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