FACE TO FACE: Lynda Reid – Communicating a Vision

The private, and prestigious, Auckland girls’ boarding and day school catering for Years 1-13 was hosting students’ grandparents the day Management magazine spoke to Lynda Reid. Maybe that’s why she refers to the school’s extended stakeholder group as the St Cuthbert’s family.
“I always think the role of the head is quite polarised,” she explains. “A head has to deal with some very different sets of stakeholders. On one level we’re business, and I have set of stakeholders who expect this business to be run in the most effective and efficient way possible: But with very high level of understanding that the parents are committing some very hard-earned discretionary dollars to their daughters’ education.”
Nothing unusual so far. These are the normal expectations of any business leader. But there’s an added dimension peculiar to schools. “At the same time, we have group of very key stakeholders in parents who also expect this to be very people-focused business. They have quite different view of my role. They see me as the person who knows their daughter, knows intimately what’s going on in the school.” This means being physically present at huge range of events, and being very personal figurehead for the school.
To do all of this, Reid says she has inherited and developed “the most fantastic” senior management team. Even so, it would take some special skills to successfully link the needs of nearly 1500 students and each of their supporters.
Dr Lester Levy, chief executive of Auckland University’s Leadership Institute, recently described Reid as an “authentic leader”, as someone who is interested in the long-term health of the enterprise. Reid herself talks of “strong sense of stewardship” driven by the high level of stakeholder commitment to St Cuthbert’s. “I really like,” she says, “to work in collegial way.”
Regular 360-degree reviews with the entire staff also tell Reid that she’s regarded as both fair and consistent.
Around her she’s created team with breadth in terms of the qualities that they bring. “I really believe in giving people autonomy within their areas of practice. I want to be involved. I want them to use me as sounding board. I want to come in, work with them through the final decisions but I really want them to have an absolute stake in what they’re doing.” And the structure is relatively flat because the staff have explicit and substantial areas of responsibility.
“Within that I want every staff member to understand what the purpose and focus of the organisation is. I see that one of my key roles is communicating.” And, it would seem, applying business tools in robust fashion.
Reid has won praise from her school board for having one of the strongest strategic planning models they’ve seen. The school has an explicit strategic planning process and regularly critiqued strategic plan. At the beginning of each year, staff are given strategic focus document “that articulates our eight core strategies and what we are doing this year. Everybody who is line manager within the organisation works to an operating plan – all of which feeds back to master operating plan and then into strategic plan. It’s good model.”
In fact, following recent staff interviews for Harvard-style case study of St Cuthbert’s School by The Leadership Institute, Lester Levy told Reid that at every level of the organisation people can articulate shared vision around what the purpose of the organisation is, and how they achieve that purpose.
Reid says that she knew “early on” that she wanted to become principal. That stems from combination of being enthralled with the subjects she wanted to teach – English, history and drama – and an interest in management. She thanks the head of her Christchurch primary school for telling her mother, “This girl has to go to university”, and her mother “probably the person I admire most in the world” for making it all possible. Reid is very aware of the sacrifices her mother had to make on her behalf, and Reid certainly leaves one with her sense of appreciation.
“Because of my family situation I guess I always saw education as the pathway out. I am the product of single parent, state house background. I’m the first person in my family to have gone to university.”
Reid’s professional career began in Dunedin as head of English and dean of Year 13 at Logan Park High School, and then after 10 years promotion to deputy principal at St Hilda’s Collegiate School, 450-girl day and boarding school.
Teaching didn’t have complete control yet, though. “Early in my career I’d always been attracted by the idea of law, and I was tempted at one point. I had very canny mentor in my first head. He was fantastic at giving me challenge just at the right moment. So I spent 10 years in my first school because every time I got little bit bored or restless he gave me really interesting job that I couldn’t wait to get involved in.” Teaching won.
In 1996, she moved to Auckland and St Cuthbert’s. Along the way Reid married Murray, now deputy principal and head of senior campus at Dilworth School – boys’ boarding school of 500 in Auckland.
Reid added to her BA and teaching diploma by becoming the only independent school head to receive Leadership in Education Award from the Secondary Principals’ Association. She is also president of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of New Zealand, vice president, Independent Schools of New Zealand, an executive board member of The New Zealand Institute, and member of both the Secondary Leaders’ Forum and the University of Auckland Consultation Committee.
One could be forgiven for thinking this doesn’t leave much time after 60-hour working week which includes “more often than not” an event to be attended at the school every night of the week, school sports on Saturday, and chapel at the school “most Sundays”. But, somehow, Reid is also able to present at conferences both in New Zealand and overseas, and last year hosted old girls’ reunions in London, New York and San Francisco, and worked with Mme Sylvie Pierre at the Lycée Louis le Grand on an exchange programme.
She also visited St Paul’s Girls School and The Godolphin and Latymer School in London, Oxford and Stanford Universities, The Chapin School in New York, and range of west coast US schools. Then there was professional development course at Harvard Business School.
How? “When I first started here my children were young. There was wonderful need for self-discipline. Back then I tried to get home by six o’clock knowing that I had to work again in the evening. But there was that discipline of knowing that as soon as I walked in the door, that was family time. There might only be an hour of it, but it was family time. That’s discipline I’ve tried to maintain.” Reid adds that it certainly helps being married to someone who understands the pressures and responsibilities.
She also acknowledges she’s had some help along the way. At Logan Park and St Hilda’s, Reid says she was fortunate to work with people who mentored her – encouraged and gave real opportunities, and where she learned “just how you manage the daily complexities of life”.
Now she finds herself mentoring others. The role of mentor, she says, can be done in two ways. “Sometimes you have people who are in position to actively mentor you… [and] at appropriate times offer the next step for you. Perhaps see that you’re ready for step before you yourself may be ready for it.” Reid’s preferred model, however, is “somebody trusted enough to use as sounding board. Somebody that you could talk an issue through with – not even necessarily to give you advice but just to give you that way of approaching and articulating an issue – just even saying them aloud and helping you through your own thinking processes.
“I would never have had anybody who would help me with the solution but they might have helped me [by] giving me venue or an environment in which I could talk about it.”
And what

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