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The Most Important Member of the Team and Span of Control (pages 130-135)

Part One: Leadership Strategies, 3. Principles, A. The Most Important Member of the Team, B. Span of Control (pages 130-135)

A. The Most Important Member of the Team

When speaking with any member of the team, “you are the most important member of the platoon”, was always the message. Whether it be the point man who guided the platoon through hazards, the radioman who would contact for help if needed, the medic who was responsible for keeping wounded team members alive, or the machine gunners who laid down suppressive fire to allow for safe troop movement, all were considered the most important depending upon the situation. “Everyone has the most important job. Let them know that.”

As an administrator, it is easy to fall into the habit of overly focusing on teaching and learning. With federal guidelines mandating high-stakes testing in every state, the results of those tests have become even more important as they are tied to funding and the public perception of the effectiveness of the school. Accordingly, administrators spend much of their time and energy on increasing test scores. While this in itself unfortunate, I will leave the merits of high-stakes testing for another day. I remind my administrators that there are a lot of unsung heroes within their building. Each with “the most important job”. The school counselor who focuses on student mental health, the nurse who takes care of the student's health needs, the front office staff who are the first point of contact for those entering the building, the custodial staff who keep the building clean and safe, and the foodservice staff who ensure the students receive healthy food. I intentionally seek these staff members out when I am in a building to thank them for there dedication to the students and district and to remind them of how important their job is.

B. Span of Control

A leader's span of control is based on both the challenges and environment they will face and the quality of their subordinate leaders. To ensure that leaders are successful, military units are typically based on four to six-man fire teams. SEAL task unit commanders are often responsible for up to 40 individuals. However, the chain of command breaks that group up into platoons, squads, and fire teams. Thus, the task unit commander was only responsible for two direct reports, the platoon leaders. This the concept of Decentralized Command. Also, the unit needs to have a succession plan in place. When a leader will become incapacitated, and the team's next highest-ranking member will need to take over. Having a detailed plan in place ensures that the team continues to function. Within the business world, the typical amount of subordinate leaders is between eight to ten. The quality of the subordinate leader also affects the amount of time the leader can dedicate to each member. The better the subordinate leader, the more time the leader can spend with the inexperienced leaders. “Keep your span of control limited so you actually have some control.”

As a Superintendent, I had an assistant superintendent, five principals, and three directors that reported to me. The challenge was to provide extra guidance to my novice administrators while still spending enough time with my experienced staff members. Communication was paramount and spending as much time in the buildings with my leaders was crucial. I did individual book talks to establish an open thought sharing relationship with each administrator. That one act created a strong rapport with my subordinate leaders and allowed us to professionally grow.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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