Entering my fourteenth year as a Head of School, at two different schools, I continue to find board evaluation of the Head to be a fragile process, even as I have worked with supportive, sophisticated, grounded boards members committed to advance the best interests of the institutions they serve.
How does the board get good information about the Head of School’s performance? Can or should the board trust information provided by the Head of School? Are there reliable sources of information, independent of the Head of School?
How does a board comprising diverse individuals (often 20 or more) with differing visions of effective leadership and with differing levels of familiarity with the school’s current operations arrive at a common understanding of the Head’s performance, stable enough to withstand contrary opinions expressed by various power brokers within and outside the board?
The Secret Scorecard
In the absence of clear evaluative benchmarks, Head of School evaluation can be governed by The Secret Scorecard (working in concert with the Unwritten Mission) – the varied, unspoken standards of evaluation used by individual trustees to assess performance, at times based on individual or small-group perspectives presumed to be widespread. The effect of the Secret Scorecard on the Head’s performance can be to manage and lead in response to individual trustee agendas.
Avoidable and Unavoidable Turbulence
In the process of implementing difficult improvements, how much turbulence do various trustees expect and how much will they tolerate? In such circumstances, how does the board distinguish between unavoidable turbulence and turbulence amplified by clumsy, careless, imprudent leadership? How can a board anticipate the intensity of turbulence likely to accompany difficult change and prepare itself to withstand criticism for its support of such change and its support of the change agents involved.
It is the rare board that doesn’t harbor hopes that its Head will enjoy high approval ratings from various constituencies. To what extent is popularity, over time, a key benchmark for Head of School performance. If so, how ought the board evaluate the community’s satisfaction with the Head? If not, how can the board justify its support of its Head in the face of opposition from those displeased with the Head?
I share these observations primarily to see if my observations resonate with other heads, and I would welcome insights from others about ways in which they have addressed any of these challenges.
John C. Allman is Head of School at Trinity School (New York City). You can reach him at email@example.com.