It Takes Two To Tango

Lon Garrison, Director of Membership Services

The Board and Superintendent relationship can be like dancing the Tango. When the Board leads well, supporting the Superintendent during tricky maneuvers and daring moves, disciplining itself not to overstep and trip up its partner, and provides clear expectations for where the dance will go, it can be a beautiful thing. However, that beauty takes practice, excellent communication, diligence, and, most importantly, trust.

As I reflect back over the last three years of working with boards that are seeking new superintendents, I have observed where this leadership Tango has often gone awry. I have to say, most of the time, it is because the Board has failed to lead the dance appropriately. Yes, the Superintendent bears some of the responsibility, but it is the Board, the leading partner of the duo, that ultimately is the one that needs the practice.

Here are the three steps to this dance that are critical for success.

Clear Expectations:  As the leading dance partner, the Board must set clear and reasonable expectations for the Superintendent to follow. These expectations should be rooted in your district strategic plan, your annual Board priorities, and a focus on improving student achievement and success for each and every student. It is really that simple. Without clear expectations, how does your Tango partner know what the next move might be?

Culture and Behavior:  Along with expectations, the collective behavior of the Board that creates a trusting, supportive, and dynamic relationship is essential. You are not going to dance a perfect Tango. You are going trip here and there, a spin may get away from you momentarily, your grip may slip a bit, but because the Board has built a culture of support and trust, the Superintendent knows they can recover, and the dance can continue. Similarly, when the Board puts its feet where they don’t belong, the Superintendent can communicate corrective action without fear of falling and bingo you look brilliant together!

Communication and Evaluation: To dance the Tango well, the leader of the couple must communicate to the partner its intentions on what the next move will be (Remember expectations above?). The Superintendent, the following partner, must also learn to communicate and respond effectively, so the dance progresses as hoped. 

When either partner fails at this, usually the results are somebody ends up on the floor or whirling away and out of control.   

Then, the dance for the year comes to a close, it was not perfect, but it could be better. Before the next Tango begins, the Board and Superintendent must evaluate their partnership and the results they have achieved. 

On that first big spin last year, was there the support and trust that was needed to make it through confidently? When the dancers are close, is there still room for respect and perspective? Did you step on each other’s feet? And finally, did this Tango result in improving student success? Perhaps not as much as you had hoped, so lets practice the dance again!

Maestro! Play it again!

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