New School…New Secretary…Now What?

It’s tough being the victim of your own success. Just when you’ve mastered the Fundamental Practices™ and your school is on track to produce real breakthroughs in student achievement, you find yourself promoted to a different school, partnered with a different secretary, and with no immediate opportunity to attend the 2-Day Course.

Don’t fret. As the “freshest face” in charge, you’re expected to change-up the status quo—that’s why you were promoted. A new staff and new challenges is once again an opportunity to do more of the work you love, more of the time. But before you schedule your first Coaching Day “Meet and Greet Tour,” you must meet, greet and win over your new secretary. Accomplish this, and you significantly improve your chances of winning over everyone else.

My advice—tread lightly here. Your secretary-to-be may have already caught wind of how you purportedly “did nothing” in your previous job. She may be nervous about what lies ahead and unfamiliar with the manner in which you and your former secretary partnered together to generate mutual success. Your initial work is to acknowledge her and put her at ease, so that the story she recalls later is, “You had me at ‘Hello!’”

On your office move-in day you’ll have very little to do, so take her out to lunch and have the following conversation:

“I want you to know I hold the school secretary position in high regard, and I afford my secretary a level of respect that you may not have experienced in the past. In my eyes, you are not my subordinate. I consider you my partner in running the building. Your role is as important, if not more important, than everyone else on the school leadership team, and the success of this organization will be closely tied to the quality of our working relationship together.

“You will know I am at my best when I am spending full, uninterrupted days out in classrooms observing instruction, rather than hanging around your desk interrupting you. But I can’t actually spend enough time out coaching without a skilled executive secretary, like you, running the front office. To facilitate this level of shared responsibility and effectiveness, there are specific protocols we will practice together.

“First, don’t be surprised by my empty office—I like it that way. No paper, no books, no bookshelves, no filing cabinets, no computer, no personal knick-knacks. Just calm and quiet. It keeps me from getting caught up in anything other than what I was sent here to do. I encourage you to point out to me when it’s anything less than impeccable and insist that I clean it up. (Podcast #2, Clean Your Office Again … Really) You’ll score extra points with me for that!

“Second, we will convene every day for a private, one-on-one, meeting, preferably in the morning. I understand that running the front office is a complex, nuanced job, and you are the most capable person around here to do it. However, to do it well requires that we regularly share information, teach each other about the organization, and commit to coordinated action. (Podcast #3, How to Conduct a Productive Daily Secretary Meeting) Therefore, we need a daily meeting. This meeting is yours to run. You determine the agenda, the time frame, and the flow so that you get the clarity you need to do your job well. I consider our daily meeting the most important conversation of my day. Do not sacrifice it for someone else’s “crisis-du-jour.” Instead, let’s maximise the time together to grow our skills, know-how and partnership.

“Third, with your help and input, I intend to implement a documented system to track and triage the endless number of requests that bombard this office on a daily basis. Neither you, nor I should rely on our memories to deal with it all. By establishing a documented system to track the requests we receive and the agreements we make, we will reduce everyone’s stress levels and provide better service to our staff, students, parents, and colleagues. I will teach you what I have learned about implementing this kind of a system and by all means, use your own creativity and know-how to build on my experience. (Podcast #4: Build Your Capacity to Make and Manage Requests)

“Lastly, I am going to hand over my calendar to you and empower you to manage my time. As the lead secretary, you are much better at this than me. When I attempt to manage my own time, I inevitably get bogged down in distractions. When you run my calendar, I know I will spend two full days each week out coaching, which is exactly where I need to be. I want you setting my daily agenda based on your understanding of my goals. From here forward, anyone who wants something from me goes through you first. You say who I talk to, what I work on, and for how long, and you will keep me on the “straight and narrow” by frequently reminding me of my commitments. (Podcast #5: Breakthrough Scheduling: The 4th Fundamental Practice)

“Again, I hold the school secretary position in high regard, and I am acutely aware of the fact that I can’t get it done around here without you. This requires that I share leadership responsibility with you—responsibilities that you are uniquely qualified to handle, and which you have earned.

“Still interested in working with me? Then let’s get started.”