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Pluses and Minuses of Entrepreneurs on the School Board

Posted by Scott Barron on Oct 5, 2015 5:47:56 AM
Scott Barron

Most of the world's richest people are successful entrepreneurs--people who had the courage and stamina to take a business from startup or early stage to remarkable profitability. Just this week, for example, the founders of mobile app Snapchat were Forbes Snap Chat Coverinducted into Forbes list of billionaires. You may not have people in your school community at that level of wealth, but your likely to have some successful entrepreneurs who have substantial leadership skills and financial capacity.

These business leaders are attractive board members for many reasons, especially because of their strategic insight, potential financial support, network of influence, and high propensity for active engagement. Loading up your board with these driven leaders, however, also has some risks.

Becoming an entrepreneur requires a unique combination of vision, courage and insanity. The failure rate of business startups is about 90%, so the prospects of achieving their goals are daunting. Motivation comes from the potential of reaping the substantial financial and quality-of-life benefits from all of the blood, sweat, and tears. Consider some of these benefits and risk.

They know how to make money

Relentless focus on the bottom line (i.e., profitability) is a habit common among prosperous entreprenuers. They are adept at filtering out the noise about potential opportunities and problems, drilling down to what it will take to produce a sufficient quantity and quality of clients who deeply want what is being offered. They generally know how to make money and how to avoid wasting it.

They're willing to try new things

Thinking outside the box is a strength of these leaders. Innovation is often a habit they have honed, enabling them to learn quickly and make adjustments as needed. For a chief administrator who has the desire to shake things up, this can be a valuable mindset on the board because of the higher degree of tolerance for experimentation and even failure.

They have a valuable network

In the end, one's net worth is determined by the depth and value of their relationships, and entrepreneurs usually have a broad array of connections that could benefit your school(s). This network can be used to negotiate more favorable contracts, solicit new donors, and/or provide resources for research and development. They may also have interest in serving the school as part of their own legacy plan.

They expect a faster pace of innovation

Entrepreneurs are accustomed to a rapid pace of learning and growing. Joining a school board often requires them to throttle back on their natural instincts to push people to innovate and improve. They typically have a driven personality type that expects more aggressive action for producing solutions and improving services. This makes them less tolerant of "Educators' Resistence," where administrators and teachers utilize school language and delaying techniques to push back on board pressure to take action. This results in a higher degree of tension and stress for the administration and the board.

Less sensitive to school culture

Because of their inclination toward change, entrepreneurs may be less sensitive to the nuances of school culture. Balancing the expectations of all stakeholders against the pressures of a few produces constant tension. To understand the issues and challenges of school culture requires both humility and a significant investment of time on the part of the board member--both of which the entrepreneur may be lacking. A well-planned onboarding and professional development program for board members can overcome these issues in an efficient manner.

Less inclined toward collaborative leadership

Lastly, the entrepreneurial board member may be accustomed to a leadership style that is more executive than collaborative. They're used to gathering the data, making decisions, and moving forward in rapid fashion. When consensus is required to gain buy-in from faculty and parents, this approach can be disruptive and cause dissension. The wise school board member, of course, will adjust to the realities of collaborative leadership and utilize a more balanced approach that can still motivate change.SG Lab Cover

Adding successful entrepreneurs on the school board is a great move, and proactively navigating these risks will help ensure success. You might also opt for a different approach to strategic planning, one that produces faster and more effective learning from your target market and accelerates school improvement. Then you'll be talking their language.

Topics: School Culture, Board Culture

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