Category Archives: Governance

Development of strong governance strategies

Culture Is Key

It seems everywhere I look or listen, whether it be scholarly articles, organizational self-help books, television interviews, or internet podcasts, I keep hearing some permutation of the phrase “culture eats strategy for lunch.” An entire block of my EdD coursework was on organizational culture, and my bookshelf is lined with books designed to help me discern it, measure it, change it, or run from it!

Organizational culture guru Edgar Schein said, “Either you manage the culture, or it manages you.” I am confident that every one of you who leads a school has a story of how your best laid plans of implementing the greatest change to your organization got steamrolled by your school culture.
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Your Real Mission: Understanding Hegemony

I hope your start of the year has been good. Mine has been super busy. Why is it that, no matter how much I prepare for that busyness, I am always surprised by it? All that said, there is something that speaks deeply to vocational fulfillment when I fall into bed exhausted by a day well spent in what I believe is kingdom work, submitting it all to God and trusting him to bless it through me, and at times, in spite of me. I hope you feel passion and fulfillment in the leadership work you do for the King.

For the past year, I’ve been using this blog to share thoughts on the intersection of power and Christian school leadership. I’m hoping you’ve drawn something from those thoughts to reflect on and, in your own way, allowed it to shape your practice and beliefs. We’ve spent some time looking at factors at play in the arena of power (remember gender, charisma, theology?). I’d like to shift gears a little to deepen our understanding of how this plays out in our schools.
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Nehemiah Now

What a “capital campaign” that was! Nehemiah was under house arrest in a land far from Judah. We know he was a close servant to King Artaxerxes there. A small group of his fellow citizens from the homeland sent him a message that the wall of protection for the capital city was “broken down.” He felt the call to help repair it, to lead the capital campaign. There’s a lot to learn about leadership in how he went about it. What would you or I do today to emulate his leadership?
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Charlottesville, Power, and the Beatitudes

This summer I’ve spent a little time reading in and about the Beatitudes and reflecting on how they shape a more faithful view of enacting power. I was reading Darrel Johnson’s (2015) book on the beatitudes the weekend of the Charlottesville event when my Twitter feed exploded with updates. I went from reading and reflecting on what it means to be captive and captivated by the kingdom to watching clips of people being beaten and mowed down by a car. I was overcome, and I wept. I was overcome by the hatred, but I was also deeply moved by the clergy who gathered together to promote peace—followers of Jesus standing peacefully in solidarity and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Since then, I have heard a lot of political rhetoric and blame that just adds to the sadness. So much of what was happening in Charlottesville is a grasp for power, a grasp for power that is more connected to personal fear and the oppression of others and has nothing to do with human flourishing. In a word, it is evil; it flies in the face of the life of Christ and must be named as such.
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Push or Pull: Part II

In my last blog, I posed the contrast in leadership styles—push or pull—offering reasons for pushing as a means of helping teachers to achieve the school’s mission. Pushing demands accountability; the leader who insists that teachers all post on the school’s website a paragraph about how they weave the Word into their teaching will need to push until all have posted. “Please do this soon” often gets a receptive smile and a mental shrug. “I expect you will have it posted by this date” is a push…for the teachers’ and the school’s good.

Pushing has its benefits. Pulling has more.

The former president of the US Dwight Eisenhower caught the contrast between pull and push by using the analogy of string: “Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.” At one conference, we leaders in attendance literally tried to push a string to a goal; we wound up crumbling up the string into a wad, giggling to cover up our frustration, but we gained the goal quickly when we pulled it.
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Knowledge Is Power, but Wisdom Is Transformative

Have you ever been in a room where someone asks a question and the presenter answers with vocabulary and information that seemed designed to make the questioner look stupid? I can. I have also witnessed a presenter being asked a question that was less a question and more a clear opportunity to demonstrate superior knowledge over the presenter. I can even remember doing something similar myself when I was feeling threatened.

Knowledge and intelligence (please note that I am certainly NOT talking about wisdom here) can be wielded to gain power. This can happen on so many levels. There are people who have inside information and release it in a way that gives them status or power. There are those who have expertise on a topic who can be tempted to use their knowledge to gain power and authority. And there are times when knowledge is used to intimidate others into letting one have one’s way.
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Push or Pull as a Leader? Part I

Back on the farm, I first heard it when a half-dozen neighbors were standing around waiting to begin a threshing bee, an annual rite in which famers moved from farm to farm to help each other harvest grain, sharing a communal threshing machine. In a joking tone, my dad said, “Alright, boys, it’s time to push, pull, or get out of the road.” Since then I’ve heard the phrase at the end of a tedious debate in a Christian school board room about starting a capital campaign, this time said in anger at the board’s indecisiveness. It had the tone of Nike’s “Just Do It.”

Whether to push or pull is a crucial part of leadership. Even the choice of “getting out of the road” is part of leadership. Pushing or pulling as a leader takes effort, is likely to get resistance from followers, and may lead to giving up. Just this month I heard a principal say, in the middle of criticism for pulling and pushing too much, “I think I’m going to just back off, to let things happen and save myself from the staff’s crabbing.” Teachers and parents all know the temptation of giving up disciplining their children to avoid their “I don’t like you, Mommy” or the teenager’s sassy mouth when we set limits.
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Leadership and Charisma

Over the course of this year we have been looking at the idea of power and leadership, and we’ve done so through the lens of critical theory. That means we have tried to expose behaviors, practices, and norms—be they implicit or explicit—that limit us from fully flourishing as followers of Jesus. We have addressed gender, theology, culture, and status, and have yet to engage charisma and intelligence. I invite you to stay with me on this journey, as the most exciting part is yet to come: the post-exposure part where we explore what we do moving forward to ensure our enacting of power is more aligned with the Kingdom.
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Change for Change’s Sake. Not

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” It’s in the pool or at the lake. It’s sleeping in and slowing down. For principals, teachers, and board members, it’s reflecting back and planning forward: not so easy, but slower-paced than during the school year. It’s soooo good to put balance sheets, lesson plans, and school schedules on the shelf for a few weeks. Family time is a bigger chunk of the summertime than during the “schooling” seasons.

For school leaders and boards, summer is a good time to step back to notice changes in schooling over the past decade, most of which occur in both government and religious schools. Gone is the day (except for small schools in isolated areas) of all students sitting at desks going through the same curriculum with all parents satisfied because “The school knows best.”
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Your Vision for the Future

My last post talked about developing strategic alignment within your organization. The first step in accomplishing this is to develop a clear, agreed-upon vision and strategy. The essential task of any leader is to discuss and determine with your boards and with your staff what the “main thing” is for your school.

I often find that there is some confusion between mission and vision. For the purpose of this series of articles, vision is aspirational. It should be a short statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization’s or program’s work.
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