Board-Savvy Superintendent

Infusing Credibility Into a Leadership Team
By NICHOLAS D. CARUSO JR./School Administrator, June 2019

DOES YOUR LEADERSHIP team have credibility of leadership?

As a superintendent, your work is affected directly by how credible the leadership team is perceived. You cannot instill a sense of ownership in your staff and a loyalty to the district vision if you don’t inspire people.

» The community will not support the schools if the leadership team has no credibility.

» Building administrators will not support the central office (the board/superintendent team) if there is no credibility of leadership.

» The staff will not follow the vision of administrators if the team has no credibility.

Recently, I heard a conference presenter who was speaking about authentic leadership state, “If you don’t possess credibility of leadership, it won’t work.”

Trust and Transparency
The term credibility of leadership really caught my attention. A search of Google pointed to a substantial amount of information on the effects of credibility on successful leader-ship teams. Credibility is a major characteristic of real leadership. It is also a major foundation of trust. Without credibility (or trust), we cannot lead.

School boards often talk about credibility issues with their community — a lack of trust, often caused by a lack of transparency. These boards talk about how they must better communicate with their community to restore that trust. The problem is that creating, restoring or maintaining credibility of leadership cannot be fixed by a public relations campaign.

Credibility is defined, at least in one of my sources, as “the quality or power of inspiring belief.” Good leaders do this through how they act, not by how they communicate their actions. Board members who want to be valued by their colleagues or community members need to develop credibility. I know some board members don’t feel the need and sometimes even revel in the idea of being a maverick, but these board members often get nothing done because other board members have no interest in working with someone with little or no credibility.

A fractious or oblivious board loses credibility and will not be able to lead the school district. In these situations, the superintendent must work with the board chair to help bring the errant board member into the fold.

Four Measures
So how can we establish or raise our credibility of leadership?

» BELIEVE. You can’t fake your beliefs. If you don’t really believe in the work you and the board are trying to accomplish, all words to the contrary will have no effect. Are your goals and plans credible? Do you really support them with everything you’ve got?

» MODEL BEHAVIOR. It is critical to model leadership skills. You and the board have to act like leaders. Be inspirational and focus on the work. As superintendent, remind the board how your combined credibility will go a long way toward reaching your goals. Insist on decorum at meetings. Boards that have problems with behavior lose focus and that can cause problems. It is better to inspire good work than demand compliance. You can insist people meet the minimum, but real leaders empower people to go well beyond what is strictly necessary.

» PLAN STRATEGICALLY, NOT TACTICALLY. Keep the focus of the team on the goals. Tactical thinking is reactive — fixing what is broken as it breaks and failing to consider the repercussions of tomorrow. Strategic thinking is all about where you are going. Work with your board chair to avoid distracting items on the agenda. Perhaps the board will need to review policies to ensure the appropriate guidance is given.

» SET AN EXAMPLE. I always used to tell my kids the severity of a punishment is less important than the inevitability of it. If people know you are sincere in your leadership, they will respond accordingly. Likewise, if they know you will stand by staff and support the work of the district, they will follow with everything they’ve got.

NICK CARUSO is senior staff associate for field service and coordinator of technology with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education in Wethersfield, Conn. Twitter: @gibsonjunkie