Building an ‘advantaged’ leadership team for our students

Bill Hughes, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer

Developing high performing leadership teams that are advantaged is possible—and critical.

I have been a member of and led advantaged leadership teams in public school districts, at Alverno College and at Schools That Can Milwaukee.   Each of these teams had leaders working as a team on accomplishing clear goals – centered and focused on priorities. Here at Seton Catholic Schools, our primary focus is student achievement and engagement and we are using organizational theory developed by Patrick Lencioni as a guide in creating an advantage for our students – which includes answering key questions and having focused priorities.

While most leaders inherit teams, as a start-up non-profit, we are able to build the Seton Catholic Schools team from scratch. In creating a collaborative school network like Seton, it’s critical to get the right people “on the bus.”Put simply, we need an advantage at something that matters to our students, families, school leaders and entire network. Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage is guiding us in this work.

To create advantage, Lencioni writes, you must choose where you will excel and where you will not try to excel. Actor Jeff Bridges says, look for ways to say No rather than yes, but when you say yes, believe in what you’re committing to, it becomes your priority, and ready for the full lift. In the case of the Seton Catholic Schools academic team, we are committing to creating a strong and cohesive leadership team to focus on academic success of our kids.

The team should not be too big–no more than nine people all who believe every kid will succeed. The leadership team should be able answer six questions around which all decisions, goals, tasks, meetings, etc. will be centered and focused:

  • Why do we exist
  • How do we behave
  • What do we do
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now
  • Who must do what?

In my experience, most organizations focus on too many “top priorities.”. Wanting to cover all bases, they spread their time, energy, and resources across them all. The result is almost always a lot of initiatives being done in a mediocre way; a failure to accomplish what matters most. This phenomenon is best captured in that wonderful adage, “If everything is important, nothing is.”

Our team has one priority: student achievement.