The leaders of some of America’s most successful corporations understand that their companies’ ability to innovate depends on attracting and retaining the very best talent in their industries. Having little in common with the traditional hierarchies of the past, these organizations focus on empowering their people and allowing them the space to do what they do best. Instead of micromanaging and issuing orders, managers work to support their team members and give them what they need to succeed.
Google is an example of one such company: It has a flat organizational structure that enables employees to have direct access to the CEO without working their way up a chain of command. This makes it more likely that innovative ideas make their way to decision makers, which can move the company forward faster.
While school principals may not be able to readily retool all of the chain-of-command structures in which they must work, modern organizations offer an important underlying takeaway: Success depends upon attracting and retaining top talent, and principals can—and should—use this to their advantage.
The Scarcity of Top Talent in Schools
Every person wants to have some power in shaping his or her work environment. For principals, this starts with changing many of your assumptions about what it is to be a principal today, (including your definition of “leadership”). It also means understanding your ability to be your own champion, clearly conveying your value to higher-ups, and asking for what you need to do the daily work of being a transformative leader.
This perspective will take you out of your comfort zone, but you have much more power in the employee-employer relationship than you may realize, thanks to the scarcity of school administrators, particularly high-performing, effective principals. A research article published in 2016 in the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Bulletin noted the dual concerns about principals and the quality of new principals that have persisted since the 1990s.
Additionally, according to the NASSP’s position statement on the principal shortage, “School leaders who are retiring, transferring schools, or pursuing new opportunities within the education sector are not being replaced by enough qualified candidates. As a result, many school districts across the country report principal vacancies and a serious lack of qualified applicants to replace them.”
Take Control of the Conversation
Steps you can take to gain increased support from superintendents include regularly communicating with your superintendent, reiterating these points:
- Why the superintendent hired you for the job at this time
- What outcomes you have been hired to produce for your school community
- How you intend to accomplish your goals, including how you must schedule your time to produce the desired outcomes
No matter the field or industry, both employers and employees must be satisfied with the way things are working. If not, employees will take their talent elsewhere, leaving employers to deal with the cascade of problems that loss creates.
By understanding that your labor and talent is scarce, and realizing that districts need principals more than principals need districts, you will be in a strong position to have tough but productive conversations with higher-ups, and the confidence to ask for what you need to implement effective leadership practices and do what you do best.