The First 100 Days

Many times there an expectation that principals will need to take the first 100 days to get their feet on the ground. Every principal needs to have a little time to become oriented but it is impossible to know how long that will be. It is better to think of the transition as a series of steps.

The first step in the orientation process is for the principal to pause and reflect on the context for the transition (promotion, external hire, crisis management, etc.). In collaboration with the board, the principal should draw up a timeframe and intended goals and outcomes for the transition. Once that is done, it is possible to define the initial priorities. Now it is possible to know if it will take a month or many months to complete the transition, what resources are needed, and what the board and staff should expect of the principal.

The context surrounding the new principal can have a significant impact on the time required for the transition. For example, an external hire must learn the history, culture, strengths, board structure, capabilities and weakness of the Christian school. In addition, it will be important to learn about the community’s and donors’ perception of the school, its performance, and the relevance of its mission. While the financial performance is also important, it should be easy to grasp. An internal promotion will require less orientation. In a crisis, there is less time so the transition must be more intense.

The next step is for the principal to define and select the top team. This is very different than assuming the current senior leaders and key personnel are acceptable. They may have been the perfect match for the previous principal. The new principal is a different person with different strengths and must have the latitude to select the right team. This is also the time for the principal to take control of the agenda and the demands on the principal’s time. The new principal needs to be able to have control of their own work-life balance rather than be expected to match the previous principal’s agenda and work-life balance.

The third step is for the principal to build a relationship with the board (especially the chair) and the principal’s support staff. This is true even if the principal is an internal promotion with years of experience interacting with the board and staff. Just like it is unreasonable to expect the principal to be identical to the predecessor, it is unreasonable for anyone to expect the relationships to remain consistent after the change in responsibilities.

The final step in the transition plan is to think about communications. There needs to be internal and external communications plans that support the goals, priorities, and expectations of the principal as well as the expectations of the staff, board, and external stakeholders. Part of the communications plan must be soliciting and filtering feedback and other information.

It is tempting to think that the transition plan should be about the role and responsibilities of a principal. Those should have been handled and agreed upon before the new principal was given the job. The transition is about laying a foundation that will thrill the stakeholders and enable the principal to thrive.

The preceding is as valuable for a new board chair or a staff member assuming a key position. New leaders need time to become oriented and comfortable.

Next Step:

Encourage any new leader to take all the time that is available to make a transition

Encourage any new leader to carefully use the outline above and avoid taking any shortcuts

Discourage any new leader from making important decisions until they have a high level of confidence in their knowledge and an understanding of your mission, students, school, and external connections

It is easy to assume that a new leader is comfortable and ready to make important decisions. However, the new leader should be empowered to say they need more time before making strategic, staffing, operational, or policy-level decisions. Most of the time those decisions can be postponed a month or more without having adverse consequences. When the new leader needs time to acclimate, it is hard for others to accept the delay when they are accustomed to receiving immediate feedback. When in doubt, the new leader should check the urgency with other senior leaders and the board and preview the decision with them before finalizing it. Making a poorly informed strategic or other major decision almost always has much greater consequences than postponing the decision.

Regardless of how people act, everyone wants the new leader to thrive and the Christian school’s sustainability to increase. It is important the new leader is empowered to focus on making the right decisions.

Take It Further:

Remind your staff and board that the internal promotion to principal will disrupt everyone’s relationship with the new principal

Remind individuals who are assuming new positions that experience is what enabled them to have the opportunity but their past experience may have created biases that are invalid in the new position

Remind the individual who is assuming a new position to look at the position through the eyes of others to ensure the new leader truly understands the context of the new position


More Bang for Your Buck

Fundraising is expensive and time consuming. Some estimates state that 20 – 40% of every dollar raised was spent on raising the money. Making fundraising less expensive would provide more money without changing the amount of money raised.

Making the process more efficient is a good place to start. One simple suggestion is to be more selective when cultivating donors. Spending time cultivating the generosity of a donor who has reached their limit is unlikely to yield much of a return on investment. During the cultivation, try to learn how the donor is measuring the effectiveness of their gift. When a donor feels their gift is being more effective, their generosity increases.

Many small donors have the capacity to give more. The first thing your cultivation must do is determine a donor’s capacity to give. If they have the capacity to give $100 a year and they are currently giving $25, it will take careful analysis to determine if the cultivation is worth the effort. In the first year it will be unprofitable. How many years will it take to create a reasonable return on your effort? What is the potential of each donor’s capacity increasing significantly? An alum who gives $25 is a good candidate for cultivation because in a few years they will have a healthy paycheck.

Many times parochial schools focus on finding new donors. Most new donors come from fundraising events though most events yield very few new donors. Events attract many small donors who are there because of the entainment, the items for auction, or because a friend asked them to attend. They will make a token gift but they are unlikely to become passionate, engaged, generous donors. It is more expensive to find a new donor than it is to cultivate the generosity of a current donor who has the capacity to grow.

Many parochial schools are tempted to add an event when they need more money. Most communities have too many fundraising events already. Adding another one is unlikely to produce many new donors or much income. While there seems to be an abundance of individuals who are willing to run an event on behalf of a school, just having the event is a distraction for the fundraising staff and reduces their effectiveness and availability to cultivate current donors. In addition, unless the fundraising event (new or old) is mission centric, it hurts the school’s reputation because it is about money and finding donors.

The best way to find new donors is through referrals from existing engaged donors. Those new donors have been prescreened by your donors and have a high probability of becoming loyal, generous, and engaged donors. When a donor reaches their capacity to give, you know they are a passionate and engaged donor. Though continuing to cultivate their generosity is unlikely to be productive, cultivating their willingness to help recruit others might be advantageous.

Talk with your donors. They probably have several ideas for making your cultivation and other donor-related activities more effective, engaging, and efficient.

A key point to remember is that you are looking for ways to make fundraising more efficient. Be careful where you choose to cut costs. For example, cutting lunches with donors from the budget is unlikely to make the donors more generous or reduce the time it takes to cultivate the donor. Taking two donors, who are friends or you think will become friends, to lunch will save time and may increase their generosity because they receive validation and emotional support from the other. Inviting a board member to join the three of you and pay for lunch is even better. The board member’s willingness to pay for lunch and their presence tells the donors how much they are valued by your school and its leaders. That by itself encourages generosity.

Next Step:

Be creative when looking for ways to make your fundraising more efficient and effective

Be careful where you cut costs

Tailor your cultivation to fit each donor’s needs (use donor feedback to guide your tailoring)

Imagine the economy turns down and demand for your services increase at the same time or some local event had a similar effect on your community. The crisis will probably prevent most donors from increasing their giving. It might even cause some to reduce their support. Therefore, making fundraising more efficient and effective is the only way your school can provide the resources to meet the surge in demand.

If you have to reduce the cost of fundraising by 10% while increasing income by 5% what will you do? You would find a way if you had to. Find the way now so that you can make better use of your donors’ gifts.

Take It Further:

Be proactive and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your fundraising before your donors demand it or they begin reducing their giving because they are disappointed with your use of their gifts

Look for ways to broaden your services, while remaining mission centric, so that your mission becomes more attractive to more potential donors (use what you do to attract donors instead of relying on your staff to find donors)

Set a goal of reducing your cost of raising funds to below 10% within five year


Spend Time Reflecting

As a Christian school principal, senior leader, or board chair, it is easy to become over scheduled. Since that seems to be a way of life for most senior leaders, it can seem like the norm. The norm can be unhealthy and risky. It is unhealthy for more reasons than it corrupts your work-life balance.

Leadership is more than going from meeting to meeting. That is what managers do. Leaders take time to reflect on critical issues, study emerging trends to adjust processes and strategies accordingly, engage in education and professional development, strategize, and seek diverse options. In addition, part of being leader is to prepare for the next crisis.

No one knows when the next crisis will occur or what it will look like. However, it will take time to respond to it. If you are fully booked, it means you will react to the crisis rather than respond or you will neglect some of your normal duties in an effort to find time to respond.

If you have time for reflection built into your schedule, you have the shock absorber you need. Perhaps you were going to use today’s reflection time to think about the additional attributes the board will need to deal with next year’s challenges. Redirecting the reflection time to develop a strategy for dealing with an unexpected loss in funding because of the death of a major donor is easy. It allows you to emerge from your office after learning about the crisis with the skeleton of a new funding strategy in hand. The result is a response to the crisis rather than a reaction. During the quiet reflection you can devise a way to increase sustainability and create a competitive advantage from something that could have been a setback. Keeping your schedule intact helps to build everyone’s confidence that things are under control.

You should expect one significant crisis each year. How well prepared you are for the crisis determines if the next one will be a career-enhancing event. No one can handle a crisis flawlessly. Those who take time to reflect have the best chances of having the crises enhance their careers. In addition, they are likely to experience less stress and a better work-life balance during the crises.

Next Step:

Ensure that you spend at least 5 hours per week in reflection

Set specific goals and priorities for your reflection time

Use every crisis to increase sustainability, create a competitive advantage, and enhance your career

In addition to leaving room for a crisis, you must have a crisis team at your disposal. Use some of your reflection time to identify various individuals (internally and externally) you can call on when a crisis arises. Since crises are unpredictable, think broadly about your team’s strengths and skills gaps as well as your own. Have the talent on standby so that you can call on them as needed during a crisis. During the good times, call on various crisis resources for advice and assistance. It will provide you with a understanding of the limitations of your crisis team. Being able to smoothly respond to a crisis will provide your stakeholders with confidence and make it easier for you to gather support when needed.

Take It Further:

Ensure all of your key individuals and senior leaders are preparing the same way you are (your school is only as strong as your weakest team member)



Creating Agility

Agility is the ability of an organization to change direction quickly and with minimal disruption and obstacles. In the past, parochial schools operated in stable markets. In stable markets change occurs slowly and is usually driven by the market leaders. Now change is happening quickly and can be driven by anyone, including external forces. The agility of your school is now a survival trait.

Almost everything a parochial school does now has the potential to drive growth, to be a point of entry for a competitor, and to provide a competitive advantage. That implies growth and change must happen without the burden of seeking permission. The staff must have freedom to act.

Boards must be willing to trust the judgement of the staff and be equally agile. Agility limits the board’s ability to make decisions. Therefore they must set policy and define goals that guard the mission and vision without constraining the staff’s ability to act. They must trust the staff to make decisions and choose a path that will meet the board’s expectations, which requires the board to speak clearly and take the long view.

The staff must own the plan. There must always be a plan. However, plans now have a limited shelf life because of the need for rapid change. It is rarely necessary to change the endpoint (vision). The significant changes in technology and society have created many new paths to each possible endpoint. The best one today is different from the best one last quarter. Thinking that the best one has been found creates a bias that will strangle agility.

Agility means groups must be able to work in parallel. For example, tracking the long-term outcomes of the students depends on the combined effort of finance, fundraising, and programing. How donors measure the value of the outcome will change over the next year or so. Programing must change to produce, track, and report what the donors expect. Finance must change its processes to provide the resources programing needs and also communicate the need for funding to fundraising. All of that must occur dynamically without a six-month delay while the budget is debated, a funding plan is developed, and new student services are designed, tested, and deployed.

If the old ways are used, the donor demands will change again before the last set of changes can be implemented. The competition for the donors’ funds is intense; any delay in the response to donors’ demands creates an opportunity for someone to be more responsive and capture your donors.

The old process safeguarded decision making. The new process must be frictionless and dynamic. The process must also promote growth, innovation, and experimentation.

Next Step:

Identify all of the friction points in your operations both within groups and between groups

Create non-operational safeguards (vision, goals, etc.) to ensure success rather than relying on checks, balances, formal procedures, permission, etc.

Use innovation, experimentation, and your school’s ability to respond to change as indicators of your agility

Trust is essential to agility. Procedural and hierarchical decision making are the antitheses of trust. Therefore, deciding to be an agile leader and lead an agile group requires a cultural change at all levels. If the board and staff have two different cultures there will be an unhealthy tension.

Accountability is essential for success. If one is accountable for the details, there is very little opportunity to be agile. If one is accountable for reaching a goal, one is empowered to be agile. Holding a team responsible for reaching a goal requires a significant level of trust. It can take months to reach the goal and during that time it can be difficult to determine if the team is on the right path.

Agile processes are living experiments. It is unlikely any experiment will fail but many will produce less than expected, take longer, or cost more than expected. Regardless of the end result, every one will strengthen your school, add to the relevance of your mission, and increase your school’s sustainability.

Take It Further:

Ensure that you always have at least three options to consider before making a decision

Ask your board to use the progress toward goals, the adherence to policy (rather than following procedures), fulfillment of the mission’s promises, increase in support, growing number of students served, change in student success, and actualization of the vision as the ways to measure your school’s success rather than financial results, execution of plans, budget adherence, etc.



Why These Children?

Students and families fit into four groups:

Great Fit – They are the ones who are ideal. Your services fit their needs. They are passionate about what you do. Everything goes smoothly. They are the poster children for your mission and the focus of your anecdotes. They provide the statistics that everyone wants. Success seems to be effortless.

Average Fit – Everything is fine but both sides need to work at it. Success takes effort but it is usually achievable.

Poor Fit – Success is always out of reach. No one wants to give up but both sides should.

The Lost – They showed up. It looked promising but they disappeared. No one knows what happened.

Each group can teach your school many things about how to be more successful. Those in the Great Fit category are the prototype. If, for example, their typical computer skills are a 7 on your 10-point scale, perhaps the members of the other groups should have their skills brought up to 7 before being fully admitted to your program. If for some reason someone is unable to meet your expectations, it would be better to recommend a different school or service provider than admit another student to the Poor Fit pool or have them self-select into the Lost pool at some point.

Because you are unable to serve Poor Fits, there are several advantages to declining them. For instance, if the student is more likely to thrive somewhere else, declining them increases your success/admission ratio, you provide your donors with a better return on their investment, and your mission’s relevance is higher. It also tells you what you must do to serve a broader group of students. However, until you have broadened your offering, it is better to let someone else help them.

In a perfect world every student will be a Great Fit. There are probably enough students in your community who would be a great fit if only you could reach them. Now is the time to examine your marketing program to determine why some of your potential Great Fits are going elsewhere. You should also consider whether your referral sources understand which prospective students have the potential to be Great Fits.

The Average Fit students need a little more help so that each of them will be a Great Fit. Refining, broadening, or adding depth to your program will change good to great. While the Great Fits give you bragging rights (“Look at what our mission does for our students and community.”), the Average Fits provide the justification for donors to increase their generosity and engagement (“There is more we need to do for our students so that every student enjoys the full benefit of what our mission offers.”). When you do expand your services so that more Average Fits become Great Fits, you increase the relevance of your mission, broaden your admissions, and create the opportunity to serve a few of the Poor Fits who are currently outside your mission’s reach.

The Poor Fit students teach a Christian school discipline. While it is hard to turn anyone away, there are many who will be better served by someone else. It is tempting to try to serve everyone but that is experimenting with students’ futures. It is better to wait until your services expand and redefine what the pool of Average Fit includes. When the definition of Average Fit is broader, some of today’s Poor Fits will become tomorrow’s Average Fits.

Another more immediate way to serve those who are a poor fit is to merge with a Christian school who is able to serve them. When you combine with a strong and healthy school that serves a different segment of students than yours, the combination is strength building on strength. The combined school is able to offer more to each student. Serving a broader population of students means families can have more of their children’s needs met by one school. The combined school’s mission will have a broader impact on the community, attract more community support, and have a high level of sustainability. In addition, it will have a unique offering that will create a difficult-to-copy competitive advantage.

The Poor Fits can also help you to refine your marketing. They were attracted to your school when someone else would have been a better fit. What is there about your marketing that lead them to believe your school would be a good fit?

The Lost are those who never became engaged enough to sustain the relationship. It is important to check with them so you can improve your student and parent engagement. They can probably tell you why some other service provider was a better fit for them. In some cases, you will discover that they realized it would be a poor fit to continue. In other cases, you will learn about a misconception concerning your school. Each lost student lowers your school’s sustainability.

Next Step:

Analyze your current pool of students and profile the students in each group

Determine how to change your admission process to reduce the number of Poor Fits and increase the probability that more of your Average Fits will be Great Fits

Follow up with the Lost to determine how to prevent future attrition

Use the preceding to refine your marketing and referrals

Set specific goals for improving your success/admissions ratio, the size of your Great Fit group, and the elimination of your Poor Fits

Every Christian school needs more statistics because statistics provide a compelling reason for donors and communities to increase their support. When your statistics demonstrate that your success/admissions ratio is increasing, you will notice an increase in donor engagement and community support.

Your current collection of anecdotes needs to be supported by statistics that demonstrate the relevance of your mission, your impact on your students, and the value you create for your community.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to use the increase in your Great Fit pool as an indicator of the improvement in your programming, marketing, and referrals

Remind your board that donors care more about the number of students who succeed than the number of students served

Use the change in the cost of student success to measure your school’s efficiency rather than the change in the cost of students served



Your Ideas Create the Future

The principal is the practical leader of a school, the board chair should be the visionary leader. The visionary leader is responsible for painting the picture of the future the parochial school will create for itself, students, and community. The vision unites the futures of the school, students, and community.

The vision should be big and inspiring. The vision is most inspiring when it is just slightly out of reach. The vision 50 years ago of wiping out polio was slightly unrealistic. Those who had that vision are unlikely to live long enough to celebrate it when it occurs. However, it inspired enough people (supporters, workers, governments, etc.) so that today we know it will happen. Because it was optimistic enough to be inspiring, it will be an important and valuable success.

Board chairs must be able to work with their board members and staff to conceive of the vision. It is the board chair’s responsibility to articulate the vision and inspire the staff, board, donors, and the community to pursue the vision. Everyone must feel ownership for the vision. When everyone owns the vision, it is easy to find the next leader when the time comes. When everyone owns the vision, it has the level of sustainability necessary to ensure it will be pursued until success is achieved.

The vision tells the world why the parochial school is valuable. The mission statement tells the world what problem the school is going to solve. The vision tells the world how it will benefit from the school’s solution. For example, most daycares have essentially the same mission (educate young children) said in many different ways. It is the daycare’s vision of the child at graduation, age 5, age 10, or age 20 that determines the value of the education. A vision that can creditably break the cycle of poverty in the next generation will gather more support than a daycare’s vision to have children reading ready by graduation. Both visions are appealing but more community members will enthusiastically support the daycare with the more inspiring (valuable) vision.

It is the principal’s job to formulate the ideas that will determine how the school actualizes the vision. The principal’s ideas must also be inspirational. They should be practical but challenging. When they are practical and challenging, the staff will be inspired to reach a little higher. It is hard to be inspired when you are incorporating someone else’s ideas into your operations, so the vision should also be original just like the board chair’s vision must be original.

The principal’s ideas are the foundation for the successful implementation of the board’s vision, the success of the students, attraction of new students, and the engagement of the supporters and parents. Within reason, the principal must have the freedom to cast and pursue the principal’s vision. The board must trust the principal to know the capabilities of the staff, the needs of the students, and the priorities of the donors. Melding those interests together effectively provides the principal with the support necessary to succeed.

Trusting the principal’s vision is sometimes difficult for a board. With years of experience, it is easy for the principal to have insights the board lacks. The incomplete understanding of the board can create an overly cautious environment. When the board constrains the how, there is the potential that it will mitigate some of the value and benefits the principal’s vision will provide. Letting the principal operate freely has much lower risk than most boards realize and it is unlikely any flaws in the principal’s plan will cause serious damage to the parochial school even though the flaw may temporarily impact the plan. It is often easier for the board to trust the principal if it remembers that its job is to maximize the effectiveness of the school rather than maximize the school’s efficiency. The principal and staff are the ones with the experience and expertise necessary to create the right blend of efficiency and effectiveness.

Next Step:

Ensure your board chair is a visionary capable of melding good ideas from diverse sources

Ensure your school has a vision for itself, your students, and your community

Ensure your principal is a visionary capable of translating the board’s vision into a plan that your staff, parents, donors, other supporters, and your community will embrace

Monitor the change in support, engaged stakeholders, student success, students served, the number of new ideas, and sustainability

The value of each vision (why and how) can be measured by the support they generate, the number of stakeholders who are engaged and enthusiastic, the growth in students served, the increase in student success, and by the new ideas, experiments, and innovations that emerge. Since the value of the vision inspires support, the vision plays an important role in the sustainability of your school.

Take It Further:

Invite a cross section of supporters and community members to comment on your vision before you formalize it

Train your board chair candidates to be visionaries so that everyone understands how their leadership will change your community



Step Away

When there is a big problem, it can become all consuming. It is hard to think about anything else until there is a plan to deal with the problem. However, rushing to solve the problem is usually counterproductive.

There will be a future whether the problem is solved today, a few days from now, or never. Treating any problem as urgent places an emphasis on short-term thinking. However, the bigger the problem, the more important it is to create a durable solution. Constructing a durable solution is usually a time-consuming process which may require creativity and research.

Boards should encourage a durable long-term solution for any problem. They meet periodically for short periods of time and have full agendas. Therefore, taking a slow and thoughtful approach is their best response. Because of their limited time they can only do things once. A hurried approach is likely to result in revisiting the problem.

If your board is tempted to treat a problem as urgent, you may wish to remind it that it is starting down the micromanagement path. It is also a good time to remind the board of the one or two things that are truly urgent. Most things, including the current hot problem, just require a prompt response (“We know there is a problem and it will be addressed as soon as we have more information.”) but the final resolution (plan, resources, implementation, and testing) will take time. It is easy to agree with the preceding now but when you are facing a problem, it is hard to remember to step away and look at the big picture.

When you do step away, the first question to ask is “What do we want our school to look like when the crisis has passed?” It is natural to want everything to be back to normal but while one is dealing with a crisis the definition of normal changes. It is better to think in terms of X% better than before the crisis. It takes careful thinking and a view of the future to properly define better. For example, a Christian school faced with a security threat might react by putting up an eight-foot cement wall around the school. That might raise the security level of the school but lower the effectiveness of the mission. If the students are depressed by being in a fortress, their academic performance could suffer and enrollment might drop. Therefore, ‘better’ must be defined by the positive impact the changes have on the mission’s effectiveness, the students’ success, and the value created for the surrounding community.

Experts can tell you how to address the risk that created the crisis but they are unlikely to be helpful defining ‘better’. Convene several small groups consisting of a cross section of stakeholders and ask them to define ‘better’.

Using your stakeholders’ recommendations and the experts’ advice, you can create a plan that will impress and delight everyone. It will be expensive but because it is what your stakeholders want, there will be support. It will take much longer than the usual quick fix but it will be so much more beneficial to all of your stakeholder groups that very few will care about the length of time.

Next Step:

Take time to pause and respond to every problem (big or small)

Treat every problem as an opportunity to grow, strengthen, and energize your school

Ensure your solution is mission centric, driven by student success, and value rich for your community

Engage your stakeholders in every step from ideation through implementation

Your stakeholders want to feel like they are important to your school. They want to contribute in more ways than just their designated role (donor, volunteer, referral source, advocate, student, etc.). Inviting them into the problem-solving process is a reward for them. It raises their engagement and sense of ownership. Their participation early helps to ensure their support throughout. Their continued support will increase your school’s sustainability and the community’s perception of your mission’s relevance. As a result most Christian schools can see a rise in sustainability when responding to a problem.

A crisis focuses attention on your school. Exiting the crisis stronger will surprise and delight your stakeholders and community.

Take It Further:

Talk about the growth, change, and increase in value to others rather than the problem (people want to know that you have a plan for the future and that your school will have a future)

Draw those with the greatest reaction to the problem into the process first (it is their passion and concern for your mission and students that is energizing them, use it to your advantage)

Add creating a competitive advantage to the list of other benefits (increased mission effectiveness, improved student success, etc.)

Remember that if you only see two choices, you need to think more creatively because there are many paths to the future



Project Groups

There are day-to-day activities and there are projects. Parochial schools are organized around daily activities. Most of the time each department has the skills and experience to be highly successful. Success is assured when teams are carefully recruited, have been working together for a while, and are well trained.

Projects are ad hoc activities. Most are of a relatively short duration and recur infrequently if at all. The short duration makes training the group or individuals impractical. Therefore, the effectiveness and the efficiency of the group depends on the skills and experience each member brings to the group. Recruiting the members is the key to success.

Project groups need a broad blend of skills, knowledge, and traits. Most groups need skills like the ability to persuasively present ideas, analyze complex issues, think strategically (looking at the big picture), plan, problem solve, etc. Some members of the team will possess multiple skills. Others may have only one skill that is important to the current project. Groups also need working knowledge of areas their project touches like accounting, finance, technology, fundraising, marketing, and parochial school and education related issues. Alternatively a group might have part-time members who can provide knowledge when needed. Sometimes the knowledge is needed to inform the development and to prepare the results for users. While marketing is unnecessary for developing a new service, developing a service with an understanding of how it will be presented to the public, families, and other stakeholders improves the potential for the service to be accepted and supported. Some traits that are usually important for success are creativity, tenacity, linear thinking, non-linear thinking, discipline, flexibility, and open mindedness. Demographic diversity is important just like a diversity of skills, knowledge, and traits is.

The best solutions come when a problem is well understood. Mistakenly assuming that one must increase enrollment to increase profits may predispose the group to look for marketing solutions such as better advertising. However, the best solution might be increasing efficiency, which reduces costs and increases profits. Alternatively, the solution might be to increase enrollment by offering a new program (character development for instance) rather than increasing advertising. Since the goal is fixed (increase profits in this example), success depends on seeing many possible paths to the goal, which depends on having a diversity of skills, knowledge, and traits.

Next Step:

Define the problem you want to solve

Determine the diversity of skills, knowledge, and traits needed for project success

Define success using the long-term outcomes rather than the near-term results

The near-term results of every project are completion on time, within budget, and achieving the initial goals. In the preceding example, the near-term is increased profits. Without knowing what the long-term outcome was or could have been, it is hard to determine if the long-term outcomes will be achieved or the near-term results will be durable.

Many times the changes in the surrounding environment impact a project’s potential for success. With a diverse project team, there is a higher probability that the team will be able to adapt to the new environment without it significantly impacting the project’s timeline, resource requirements, or results.

The diversity of the group is the key to having a successful project with durable value.

Take It Further:

Remind the board that everything it does is a project (the committees and staff should be handling the normal activities)

Require your board development committee and board personnel committee to think about the diversity needs of your school when recruiting new board members


Look Where You Are Going

When you take on the job of principal, you have a picture in your mind of what your school will look like when you leave.

How many of your staff members and board members know of your vision?

How many share your vision?

How many are as passionate about your vision as you are?

It is frustrating to pursue a vision when there is limited support. After a while, it is easy to give up on the vision.

Pretend that today is your first day at work. Recast your vision taking into account your school as it is today rather than as it was on your first day. Now make your vision bolder.

The next step is to envision how your school will act. It is actions that carry us to the finish line rather than a vision. A vision defines the finish line. The follow-on is for your school to start acting that way immediately. Taking the appropriate action now will ensure that the vision will be realized. At first, a new way of doing things is awkward and marginally effective. Over time it becomes smooth, natural, and successful. As your school’s actions become more adept, you will notice that your vision will become a reality.

The final step is to check progress daily. At the end of each day ask how close you are to where you wanted to be at this time. Start the next day by making the adjustments that will better align your school with the vision and set expectations for the end of that day. This process keeps your school on track everyday. Some days you will make very little progress or even lose ground. Other days you will make great strides. How far your school moves in a day is unimportant. You are playing the long game. It is where you are in a year, five years, and more than matters.

As you use and reuse the process and engage more people in your pursuit of the vision, you will notice that it is easier to make progress. You will attract more support and gain momentum. You school’s sustainability will increase and your mission’s relevance will increase.

Next Step:

Use your vision to engage everyone in your school’s mission

Encourage everyone to tailor their acts in ways that will help the vision become a reality

Make daily adjustments in your school’s actions and plans based upon your actual and intended progress toward the vision

Naturally the mission is at the center of everything. With the vision guiding your school, you will achieve more and attract more support. The focus on the vision will also cause your school to select leaders at all levels that align with the vision. This will reinforce commitment to the vision and help to align the culture to optimize the actualization of the vision.

The result is a Christian school focused on building itself for the benefit of others rather than an organization focused on business development. Business development will occur but as a collateral benefit. The goal should never be to do business. Doing business puts the emphasis on the current transaction and the immediate benefit to the organization. The emphasis should always be to develop the best school possible. Putting the emphasis on building the best possible Christian school places the focus on the mission, the needs of the students, the value to the community, and the wishes of the donors. It creates a school with a high level of sustainability and with significant value and relevance to the surrounding community and students.

Take It Further:

Ensure that all internal and external conversations and communications reinforce the importance of the vision

Keep your vision on track and your stakeholders engaged by minimizing the distractions


Attracting the Support You Need

Having the best group of stakeholders available requires commitment and an understanding of what attracts quality.

The quality of your leadership will determine the quality of the people you attract. That applies equally to your volunteers, donors, staff, students, families, referral sources, and advocates. The quality of leadership is dependent on the leadership’s character and conduct. Conduct is an outward indicator of what the leadership values. It is important to ensure the leaders share the same values. The values must be articulated and agreed to before someone is allowed to join the leadership team. Quality must be constantly audited and the standards raised. A high-quality leadership team would never assume their values and standards were obvious.

When quality is audited, it improves. When it is left unaudited, it deteriorates. High-quality leaders look forward to the audit because they know the results will provide them with guidance for growth and new ideas for raising the standard. The best leaders know that where quality is concerned, good enough is never good enough.

There is more to a stakeholder’s selection process than quality. They also want the parochial school and its leadership to produce meaningful results, provide durable value, have measurable evidence, be innovative, a leader in its field, to be thriving, and have a high level of sustainability. Stakeholders want confidence that the school will continue to provide world-class services for a long time; therefore a history of world-class service is an encouraging sign.

Next Step:

Assess the quality of your leadership and determine how to improve it

Assess your school’s results, value creation, evidence, innovation history, and level of sustainability to guide how to increase the attractiveness of your school among potential supporters

Use the change in your support as an indicator of the quality of your leadership

Managers declare some problems too difficult to solve. Leaders find solutions. Solutions to important problems attract support. The important problems are never easy to solve but the support a parochial school receives justifies the effort. If the support you attract is less than you expected, develop a second-generation solution with greater depth, breadth, and value.

If your leadership team (volunteer and professional) is dissatisfied with the quality of your stakeholders or any stakeholder group, catalogue the areas where improvements are needed in that group. Raise your entire school’s standards in those areas. When your school’s performance improves you will notice an improvement in the group that attracted your attention. For example, if you are dissatisfied with donor engagement and generosity, increase the engagement and generosity of all of your stakeholders. Donors will only be as generous or engaged as those around them. It is the responsibility of the leaders to provide an example of what generosity and engagement mean. In other words, ensure your board and professional leadership model what you want your other stakeholders to be.

Take It Further:

Ensure your board candidates are the quality leaders you want your other stakeholders to emulate

Set standards that make supporting your school the first choice of all prospective stakeholders (high-quality stakeholders have a wide range of choices of who to support – become their best choice)