If I were looking for a sign that this school year is more “normal” than last year — and the year before that, and the year before that — I would look no further than Nashville, Tennessee, where last week NBOA hosted the North American Conference on the Business Office (NACOBO) after a three-year hiatus. NACOBO brings together independent school business leaders with a few primary goals: to identify issues of shared importance to our collective work, to serve as a thinktank when working toward innovations and solutions, to develop participants’ leadership skills and to strengthen the NBOA network.
This year’s program was different than previous years’, with an intentionally distinctive NBOA focus. In attendance were NBOA board leadership, business partner sponsors, this year’s NBOA Leadership Academy cohort, volunteers from NBOA’s business officer, human resources, and controller’s council, and business officers representing some of NBOA’s most engaged schools across the country. Nearly 70 participants, representing 30 U.S. states, Canada, Uganda and Guatemala, discussed the most pressing business, finance and operations questions and concerns facing independent schools, while having a shared learning and networking experience in beautiful downtown Nashville.
One of the benefits of hosting this event in Nashville was the opportunity to engage in-person with Vanderbilt University faculty members in addition to other leadership experts. These esteemed academics and leaders led provocative group discussions on CliftonStrengths and intercultural competency, as well as issue identification and solutions brainstorming.
The keynote for this learning experience was a good friend to NBOA and independent school business officers, Howard Teibel, president of Teibel Education Teibel Education Consulting. Howard always delivers in memorable ways that require his audiences to not just learn about leadership writ broad, but also think critically about their individual leadership role, and apply these learnings in real time to their unique educational settings. I always take something away from Howard’s presentations, no matter how many times I see him. Here are just a few of my takeaways from his presentation, “Innovation as an Organizational Practice.”
“Managers manage tasks, but leaders lead people.” This is not the first time I heard about the important distinction between these two types of organizational styles. But Howard’s spin on the topic, which focused on our intentions, shed new light. Managers believe their team makes them successful, while leaders believe their job is to make their team successful, he explained. Managers seek to control the work their team performs, while leaders help their staff see wider opportunities. Each example demonstrated how a leader’s job is to focus on who they are serving, in contrast to a manager that seeks to get served. I couldn’t help but think how the clear framing of this message should resonate with business officers who often epitomize servant leadership. While many business officers have been rewarded for managing over the years, our schools today need business officers that lead.
“Moods are always in the background for leaders.” If we don’t understand our mood when we meet, our ability to lead can be compromised, Howard said. I was skeptical at first, but this idea has become truly compelling to me. He offered tips to help identify a mood and consider it critically, rather than fall into it and let it derail the work at hand. I never thought I would see business officers digging deep to identify their mood in order to be more effective leaders, but that day came last week in Nashville. I’ve always believed that authenticity is fundamental to leadership. And now I understand that identifying your mood as well as others’ at the start of your day or meeting helps you and others understand the feelings in the room and respond to them, not succumb to them.
Finally, one of my favorite takeaways is Howard’s point that “Leaders need to have conversations that are not about problem solving.” I know a lot of business officers who are key problem solvers for their schools, and it’s important to solve problems. But as much as we’d like every conversation to end with a solution, not all will. Our most daunting issues cannot be solved in a 75-minute meeting with a head of school, consultant or association leader. These issues require discussion, exploration and investigation among other actions. A strong leader will make space for these activities — and know it will be okay. I found this incredibly liberating. Thank you, Howard!
For me, NACOBO was well worth the wait, given the quality of speakers, the backdrop of Nashville, and the international cohort of business officer colleagues. Thank you to everyone who gave their time, talent, and treasure to be with us. It was an investment on behalf of the entire association, and we will be sharing what we learned and the solutions inspired by robust discussions in the months and years to come.
Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.