The Headmaster: Visionary – Head Teacher – CEO Overcoming Objections

The Headmaster as visionary leader will run an organization of excellence that maximizes achievement of the vision, and therefore maximizes satisfaction of all the various constituencies, while assuring solid business administration and organizational integrity.  The key difference is that The Headmaster is first a leader then a manager.  A leader can learn to manage but a manager that lacks the spark of leadership may never develop into a leader.

Allow me to overcome a few objections about The Headmaster’s role before introducing thoughts about each category.

Some will object that the trustees are the visionaries; and visionaries they should be applied as trustees of the organization’s mission or ends.  However, The Headmaster is the visible leader, and primary proponent of the organizational vision, and therefore must see far ahead with the board to lead the school to success.  Some would prefer a functionary as Headmaster; someone to care take or make sure every one is happy, and that the business operation is solvent.  In this way complaints, are minimized, and no one experiences financial anxiety over the operation.  While people like the trustees should not need to field complaints, or experience financial anxiety, unlike a caretaker, the Headmaster as visionary leader will run an organization of excellence that maximizes achievement of the vision, and therefore maximizes satisfaction of all the various constituencies, while assuring solid business administration and organizational integrity.  The key difference is that The Headmaster is first a leader then a manager.  A leader can learn to manage but a manager that lacks the spark of leadership may never develop into a leader.

Recent publications imply that the role of the Headmaster has migrated toward CEO in the larger school, while head teacher duties are delegated to an academic dean.  Some say the Headmaster is wasting valuable time when teaching or developing curriculum because there are CEO duties only he can perform.  Certainly, in the larger school, delegation of responsibility is a necessary part of leadership, and staff development. Yet the excellent Headmaster will never allow himself to be relegated to managing from behind a desk.  He must be out there leading from the front, promoting the organizational mission, while encouraging each constituency, and leading the way intellectually by grappling with the great ideas, in conversation with students, faculty, parents and beyond.

In any innovative idea oriented industry, the CEO should be the most prominent leader.  A quintessential example in the technology industry for a few decades has been Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.  While some tech companies sell equipment, software and services, Mr. Jobs has a loftier vision as illustrated by a comment he made in persuading John Sculley, then President of PepsiCo, to become Apple’s CEO years ago.  “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”  The parallel is obvious.  The Headmaster behind a desk may provide for a smoothly run operation, and happy constituencies, but changing the world for the better with great ideas takes visionary leadership.

Some desire a headmaster that serves as a kindly social administrator collaborating with all constituencies, and even evaluated based on how much these various constituencies like him.  While the Headmaster must be winsome, his chief responsibility is leadership, and a leader is not liked all the time because he makes decisions for the long term benefit of fulfilling organizational ends, not short term decisions to placate someone’s particular desire.  A leader makes difficult and sometimes-unpopular decisions for the greater good of striving to achieve organizational success by changing lives with great ideas.

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