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Servant Leadership, Stronger Leadership

Business officers may be natural servant leaders, but can also consciously cultivate diversity of thought, trust and future leadership.

Nov 19, 2019

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

“Leadership is no longer concentrated at the top. It has trickled down the organizational chart.” These words by business guru Jeffrey Hayzlett in a recent Entrepreneur article struck a nerve as we enter the season of giving next week. Today everyone in an organization — or school — must heed the call for leadership, and those at the top do best by modeling servant leadership, he explained.

Over the years, I have observed business officers demonstrate servant leadership in a variety of ways. You play a key role in a school’s “customer service,” not only with internal stakeholders, including faculty and administrators, but also perhaps the most important external customer — parents. Whether it is ensuring employees are getting paid correctly and on time, that the investment options in their 403(b) plans are communicated clearly, or that a parent’s check for an upcoming field trip is cashed expeditiously, the business office and customer service must go hand in hand.

When you get the small things right every day, it is much easier to get support for the bigger things, like a necessary tuition increase, a change in health insurance or taking a building offline to complete necessary repairs.

Why does this matter? Because when you get the small things right every day, it is much easier to get support for the bigger things, like a necessary tuition increase, a change in health insurance or taking a building offline to complete necessary repairs even though it may inconvenience faculty and students. Thus exercising and building upon your role as a servant leader is essential for today’s business officer and business operations staff.

Being a servant leader is not about subservience, wrote Hayzlett, but rather about serving your values and creating a culture that reflects those values. It is leading by example. He offered four tips to become a better servant leader.

Create a culture that embraces diversity, including diversity of thought. This will foster an environment that people want to be a part of. Two-thirds of active job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when considering job offers, according to research by Glassdoor. So chances are that your next round of potential hires will be evaluating diversity during the interview process — and current staff is likely looking for it now. Encourage your colleagues to think outside the box and be sure to consider their perspectives when making a decision. “Are you giving everyone a seat at the table? Why the heck not?” Hayzlett asked.

Build a culture of trust. Trust impacts everything — employee satisfaction, retention and even productivity. To build it, communicate mission, value and vision transparently. Trust at every level leads to a more engaged faculty and administrative staff that is unified around a shared purpose. What are your schools’ values and is everyone clear on what the school, and you as a leader, stand for?

Finally, develop an unselfish mindset and foster leadership in others. Strong leaders help everyone feel their contributions matter to the school’s overall success. They listen to each team member, give people credit for their ideas and take time to answer questions. “Unselfishness is what ultimately allows [leaders or business officers to] create a long-lasting legacy,” wrote Hayzlett. One of the greatest ways a servant leader can give back is by coaching, mentoring and encouraging growth. If you don’t think younger generations need it, know that 63% of millennials feel they lack leadership development, according to the Human Resources Professionals Association.

The role of the business officer continues to evolve, and it is clear that financial leadership is essential for our schools to continue to thrive. Understanding and aligning that with the role of servant leader, in my humble opinion, clarifies how best to optimize what business officers provide every day to advance their school’s mission, partner with their head of school and trustees, and support faculty, staff, students and families. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your school communities!

Follow  President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, November 19, 2019. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.


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