The following is a re-print of a three-part series in Bob Regan discusses the most effective traits in a transformational school leader.
Part I: The Fallacy
Like the twin certainties of death and taxes, I have come to anticipate two hard realities of my work as a search consultant to Catholic schools. Both certainties appear at the front end of the process and involve search committee demands around the qualities and characteristics of the candidates they expect us to produce.
The first requirement is that the next Head of School must be a “practicing Catholic,” however one defines the term. This is a complex and often sensitive matter, which I have addressed in other posts (“The Path a Search Takes” and “The 22% Factor”). The other requirement – increasingly prevalent and concerning these days – is the very strong preference of trustees and search committees that we restrict our search to those candidates with a “proven track record in fundraising.” Whatever other gifts the candidate may possess, the ability to raise money is an essential requirement in the profile, and it must be clearly demonstrated and validated in the career record. This is especially true of undercapitalized Catholic schools with declining enrollments and eroding balance sheets. The default solution of anxious trustees is to seek the quick fix – the silver bullet, if you will.
Although quite understandable, it has been my experience that the fundraiser as a quick fix or effective turnaround agent is a fallacious assumption and is dangerously misguided as a Head of School search priority. Narrowly defined, the fundraiser profile is substantially incomplete and therefore inadequate to the task of leadership, especially when transformational change is required. If given top priority in the search, the fundraiser profile can also lead to either of two failed outcomes: 1. While screening for the proven fundraiser, you may ultimately overlook the one true game-changing candidate in the pool. In this instance, the fundraiser becomes a kind of fool’s gold, a glistening distraction; or 2. The second failed outcome in the search is equally perilous and can lead to a longer-term problem for the school: Be careful what you wish for; you may actually find what you seek! Bad hires have costly consequences. We know from performance management that “What gets measured gets done.” A truism in leadership search is, “What gets sought generally gets found.” In search, profile is destiny.
So, what, then, does the preferred transformational leader look like? What is the right candidate profile, and where might we find such game-changing leaders? In the following pages, I will share a couple of exemplary stories – from actual experience – and then we can pull the thread from these narratives to see if we can draw some guiding conclusions. I will then propose what I believe is the preferred leadership profile for Catholic schools seeking enduring, transformational change. This is a rare but attainable fusion leader with exceptional vision, passion for mission, and the ability to empower staffs, elevate communal aspirations, and make extraordinary things happen. This preferred profile includes fundraising as a vital component in the mix – not so much as an acquired skill set or proven career record but as an intrinsic leadership quality, core to the executive disposition, and manifesting itself in manifold, mission-affirming ways across the institution. In simple terms, I have come to regard this generative form of Catholic school leader as an “Institution Builder,” and its descriptive profile: “I-B” leadership.
Bob Regan is the leader of the CS&A Search Group’s Catholic Schools Practice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.