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


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