A Call for More Inclusive, Empathetic Leadership

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Today’s independent school leaders are grappling with a number of daunting developments: more competition on the educational landscape, expanding demographic diversity, divisive politics, the rise of Millennial parents and workers, the retirement of Baby Boomers, the question of college’s value, the excitement of social media, and the hopes and fears of artificial intelligence.

The confluence of these global trends has spurred an urgency to redefine independent school leadership to espouse greater inclusion and empathy. To begin to achieve that, NAIS convened a group of independent school educators, academics, and thought leaders for a leadership summit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on October 2021, 2016. (See list of attendees.)

Limited Diversity of Leaders Nationally

The lack of diversity and inclusion in leadership was on full display as attendees addressed the limited number of women and people of color in leadership posts. Across industries, women continue to hold positions with less prestige, less power, and less pay, said Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the American Association of University Women. She cited the following statistics:
  • In public schools, women make up 76 percent of teachers and 20 percent of superintendents.
  • In the nonprofit sector, 75 percent of nonprofit professionals are women, and just 43 percent are nonprofit chief executives.
  • In the private sector, white men hold 63 percent of top leadership posts, white women hold 24 percent, black women occupy 2 percent, and Hispanic women account for 1 percent.
  • In government, U.S. state legislators are 75 percent men and 25 percent women, including 5 percent women of color.
Hill noted that several factors explain the leadership gender gap: caregiving demands and women’s choices, the gender pay gap, the lack of networks and mentors for women, and implicit and explicit bias and discrimination against women in the workplace.

Challenges in Independent Schools

The independent school sector mirrors these national trends. The percent of female heads at NAIS schools has hovered around one-third for the past 16 years. The percent of heads of color has ticked up from 3 percent in 2000-2001 to 7 percent in 20152016.
NAIS conducted a study to understand the dynamics of the recruiting process that aid or hinder the hiring of women and people of color for headship positions, said NAIS vice presidents Amada Torres and Caroline Blackwell in their presentation to the group. The study included women and people of color who were potential headship candidates as well as search firms and search committees.
A confidence gap between men and women was evident. Sixty-six percent of men of color said they are highly confident in their ability to become head of school compared with 43 percent of women of color and 43 percent of white women who said the same.
In the headship hiring process, there’s a noticeable disconnect between the qualities that search firms and committees seek and what professional women and people of color believe they’re seeking. For example, candidates said they thought experience at a similar school was the least important qualification; search firms valued this highly. Similarly, candidates believed that prior experience as head does not rank as high as search firms and search committees place this work history. Furthermore, the leadership experiences of business officers, admission officers, and diversity practitioners are undervalued. Many of these positions are occupied by women and people of color.

Ideas for an Inclusive Pool

Attendees discussed more expansive models of leadership to turn the tide to parity. Women and people of color say mentors, sponsors, and professional development can make a difference in their advancement. In particular, NAIS survey respondents said they wish for PD opportunities that improve their leadership skills.
It’s crucial to approach leadership development with an eye toward equity and racial justice, said Joe-Joe McManus, executive director of Rootstrong, a nonprofit that focuses on multicultural leadership education and development based on four global principles: human rights, social justice, diversity, and integrity.
He advocated the CUNY Star leadership education model, known for its cultural relevance and responsiveness. Competencies include professional excellence, self-knowledge, identity development, cultural competency, contextual literacy, civic engagement, work-life balance, community building, critical engagement, applied ethics, and dynamic balance. He noted that the aspects of these competencies can shift depending on location, and cited self-knowledge as an example because it is so individual.
While instituting a multicultural model, we must also navigate the existence of privileged fragility, McManus said. This applies to people who are advantaged members of racial and other systems of privilege/oppression. Such fragility is triggered by any loss of privilege or feeling of any stress related to one’s privileged status, and can manifest as anger, disengagement, fear, guilt, and white tears.
These challenges notwithstanding, cultivating a wider range of leaders was a running topic at the summit. The Center of Creative Leadership (CCL) aims to develop leaders at all levels and positively impact communities, said CCL Senior Faculty and Faculty Development Director Marin Burton. To do this, CCL employs the framework of leading self, leading with others, and changing your world. “Leadership is an inside-out process that begins with knowing yourself,” Burton said. The framework takes different forms in different grades. Kindergarteners learn to keep their hands to themselves. Middle schoolers practice working through conflicts. High schoolers learn to be intentional when choosing an internship. (Listen to a podcast between NAIS and CCL.)
In an example of CCL’s joint work with Ravenscroft School (North Carolina), Colleen Ramsden, assistant head of school for academic affairs, shared how the school’s Lead From Here program has transformed its young students into leaders. She relayed a story of a group of fifth-grade boys who befriended a new student, but were concerned that their new friend didn’t understand friendship skills. He lacked self-awareness, empathy, and accountability, all key components of the program. One boy explained to the school counselor that the group was helping their new friend learn the Lead From Here competencies. The counselor’s jaw dropped in response; that was the work she was poised to do, Ramsden said. (Read a blog about Lead From Here, and listen to a podcast with Ramsden and leaders of the program.)
In addition to spreading leadership throughout an organization’s hierarchy, attendees discussed that people of different temperaments ought to be represented in leadership. Heidi Kasevich, director of Quiet Education associated with Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, urged schools to give voice to the introverts among us. Introverts are characterized by preferences for quiet stimulation over excitement and deliberate thinking over quick thinking.
Kasevich noted that 50 percent of workers self-identify as introverts, while 96 percent of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts. Sixty-four percent of people believe their organizations are not harnessing the power of introverted employees, she said. To be sure, a group mixed with introverts and extroverts achieves a more creative outcome, according to organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s research.
Kasevich gave tips to promote quiet leaders’ success:
  • use energy strategically,
  • schedule solitary time,
  • show enthusiasm,
  • schedule a time to walk the halls,
  • let extroverts know you care,
  • talk to introverts one-on-one, and
  • use solitude to make good decisions.

Leading with More Feeling

Attendees discussed the move toward expressing emotional intelligence in leadership. Since Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence in 1995, social and emotional intelligence has become a cornerstone of leaders’ development in schools and corporations, Janet Patti, a facilitator at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, said in a videotaped address to the group.
The results are clear: Managers and leaders with higher emotional quotients have greater sensitivity and empathy, are rated as more effective, receive higher performance ratings, develop high-performing effective teams, and create a healthier school culture.
The modern view of emotion encompasses attention, memory, learning, decision-making, relationship quality, physical and mental health, and everyday effectiveness, she said. To evaluate emotional intelligence, the Yale Center uses the RULER Approach:
  • Recognize emotions in self and others,
  • Understand the cause and consequences of emotions,
  • Label emotions accurately,
  • Express emotions appropriately, and
  • Regulate emotions effectively.
Patti concluded by underscoring the role emotional intelligence plays in building more creative, healthy, effective, and compassionate schools. “There is a growing understanding that we cannot change the behavior of schools until we change the behaviors of the people who work in them. We believe that intensive change in schools and in student learning will happen when school leaders develop their own social, emotional, and cognitive skills, and build professional capital through the transformation of the adults responsible for the teaching and learning of our children.”

The Unintended Leader

Tech entrepreneur Donald Golini also touched on the need to display emotional intelligence as he rose in his career. When he founded QED Technologies in 1996, he never dreamed his business would grow to more than 70 employees and generate $18 million in revenue. He developed and sold high-tech products for the precision optics market throughout the world, counting Canon and Leica as customers, among others. He began by giving presentations on how material science could solve an important problem for the industry, then wrote a business plan and persuaded others to join him.
After 10 years he sold the company, which was a difficult decision because he hired every single person there. Today, he teaches college student engineers how to write business plans and can spot problems early based on his experience.
Along his success route, Golini learned that surrounding yourself with competent people is a must. That means hiring top talent and establishing an advisory board that works for you, he said.
Also key is a strong company culture. Golini infused his with integrity, a can-do attitude, accountability, mutual respect, and transparency. “If the values statement posted in the lobby is not real…EVERYBODY knows,” he pointed out.
No matter how clear core values are, they can be misinterpreted, Golini discovered. A former employee confused “can do” anything with “can do” everything.  In that case, Golini put on his “chief executive counselor” hat to help. “You have to be willing to coach [employees] in personal and professional tough times,” Golini said. “He could have quit and would have quit if I wasn’t available to him.”
Golini said developing leadership skills was pivotal in his ability to recruit and maintain a great team at QED Technologies.

Your Leadership Stories Matter

Join NAIS as we continue to redefine and explore leadership amid our changing times. We encourage you to discuss ideas using the Twitter hashtag #NAISDeepDive and post in NAIS Connect’s “Idea Exchange” community.

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