The Importance of Protocol
Jonathan T. Jefferson
Ineffective leadership is reactionary. There are other forms that ineffectual leadership takes, but this essay will focus on reactionary people in leadership positions who do not understand the importance of protocol. Protocol can be defined as “the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.”
The following scenarios are based on true accounts, but the perpetrators will remain nameless. A school district superintendent recommends cuts to the school district’s budget for the following school year. He explains to his board of education that the cuts come from every department to be fair. Student participation, and per pupil cost, are taken into consideration. A parent of a child on the middle school bowling team is disappointed that the bowling team has been cut. This parent speaks to a board of education member who happens to be her neighbor. Said board member calls the superintendent to inquire about the bowling team. Instead of explaining the legitimate reasons why the bowling team was eliminated, the superintendent feigns ignorance, and directs his business administrator, and athletic director, to reinstate the program. Clearly, this is not leadership, but reacting in fear to one voice from the community.
What would proper protocol have been in the above scenario? Firstly, board members have no authority acting independently. Board members must act as a unit (board of education) to monitor, and set, school district policies that do not violate their state’s department of education mandates and laws. The board member could have told the parent that he would revisit the issue the next time the board met. The superintendent could have reminded the board member that his budget was approved by the board, and that the matter could be readdressed during their next budget meeting. The manner in which the superintendent reacted led to the reinstatement of another team later that school year when one parent inquired about that team at a PTA function. Leadership requires making decisions that will not please everyone, and having the conviction to defend those decisions.
In this scenario, a teacher learns that she is being transferred to another school, and decides to fight the transfer by speaking with a board member who happens to be a retired principal of her school. This board member speaks to the superintendent, and the superintendent immediately calls his assistant superintendents, and department director, to tell them to reconsider the transfer. The department director, who does have the courage to defend his decisions, explained to the superintendent that the decision was made in the best interest of instruction after meetings with the principals of both schools.
Once again, a weak reactionary person in a leadership position can cause chaos by ignoring protocol. If this teacher were to be successful at thwarting a transfer, what authority would her principal or directors have in future dealings with her? Especially disturbing is the fact that a former principal (now board member) would act in a manner that would undermine the current principal. This board member should have told the teacher that the decision was within the unilateral purview of the school administrators. An effective superintendent would have politely reminded the board member of the proper protocol in place (if any) to appeal such decision in this instance.As a school district administrator, the most effective superintendent I have had the pleasure of working with was a former Marine. She believed fully in the benefits of protocol, and held everyone to it. If a member of the community raised an issue at a board meeting, she would redirect them to the appropriate administrator and through the appropriate channels for such matter to be addressed. She was a stickler for following through with her decisions, and never backed down or shied away from the procedural soundness of her decisions when questioned. Through courage, conviction and commitment to community (rather than personal) objectives, this former marine more effectively managed a nine member board than the inept superintendent worked with his five.