Employees have a vested interest in the future of the school, with a number spending many years employed by the school, and quite a few sending enrolling their own children. In these senses, employees are significant stakeholders. While each school is different and it is ultimately up to the principal and business manager to decide what will and won’t be shared, here are some things to consider before you share financial information.
Do they want to know?
Not always. Ignorance can be bliss. It can be a very respectful thing to allow someone to outwork their role without being accountable to everyone else. Others may appreciate the insights that financial information can bring, and it may give them a greater sense of confidence in the school leadership. Employees may also be stirred to prayer (and thankfulness) for the financial circumstances of the school, and this could occur in good times as well as challenging times. I believe you would have to be careful in situations of the latter, for some of the reasons I will mention below.
They will be more supportive
If they know more, will employees be more supportive of management decisions or will management be more exposed to scrutiny? Is scrutiny such a bad thing? Most of us in our roles live in a world of accountability and understand that such accountability comes part-and-parcel with decision-making. In theory, our decisions should be able to withstand the scrutiny of others.
It can be difficult to appreciate the difficulties in the distribution of finite resources if you’re not aware of the resource constraints and the range of decisions and alternatives that must be chosen from. One would hope that a rational person, when faced with the same information as others, would make the same (or similar) decisions. Disclosure of financial information and the difficult choices to be made could have the effect of increasing the pool of support.
They might not be able to cope or understand
Those in school leadership positions are charged with making decisions in the best interests of the whole school and not purely a single faculty or area. Employees can have a very narrow focus sometimes, and that focus might be limited to their own faculty (“We need more funds for the Sports Department.”) or it might give rise to claims for salary increases. If a healthy surplus is forecast, employees may not always understand that this is needed to fund capital expenditure, such as new ICT equipment or building improvements, or to repay and service debt or provide for other liabilities such as employee long service leave. It might be hard for employees to understand the differences between profit and cash (and it might be hard for us to explain it in simple terms). As an aside, this is why I think the Statement of Cash Flows is such a wonderful tool when coupled with the Statement of Income and Expenditure and the Balance Sheet because it explains how much cash was produced from operations and how it was used on financing (loans) and investing (capital) activities.
Some employees may lack the capacity or confidence to understand the finances of a school without getting easily ‘spooked’. An employee who has never seen a financial amount bigger than the value of their own home can become worried when a few more zeros are added on the end of the number. To us business managers, they are just zeros and the fundamental concepts remain the same irrespective of whether it is $1,000 or $1,000,000 (although I do recognize that the risk increases with larger amounts). It has always surprised me that the average teacher doesn’t understand the size of financial value of the school, even when they could do simple maths such as the number of employees multiplied by the average salary plus more for overheads and other expenses. But then again, we are all different and have different skills, so I guess this could be understandable.
Exposing new leaders
Certainly, one group that should be able to receive and understand school financial information is the emerging leader. Training of future leaders is an important function of the current school leadership and sharing financial information with emerging leaders exposes them to the decision-making processes and how this can sometimes not be straightforward. These emerging leaders can also have increased insight into the needs of the school and play a supporting role in the allocation of school resources. By the very nature of their emerging leadership, these should be afforded more trust (and opportunity to demonstrate trust). An emerging leader that gets sloppy with sensitive information is shooting themselves in the foot.
It’s not a democracy
School leaders, whilst hoping to increase participation in decision-making, shouldn’t run the school by consensus or democracy. While there are opportunities for consensus and consultation in managing a school, those in senior leadership positions such as the principal and the business manager do have responsibility to outwork their roles without subordinating this to others. This doesn’t stop school leaders from being accountable for their decision-making.
Enter the conspiracy theorist
One of the things that gives our world ‘colour and texture’ is the presence of the conspiracy theorist. While maybe lower in number or less rabid, I am sure they are also present in a Christian school. For these people, no matter how open you are with them, they will think something underhanded is going on. To some extent, you can only do so much for these people, and if a person believes something sinister is going on despite open-handedness, you just have to move on. However, I believe the vast majority of employees in Christian schools are people of goodwill and would welcome more openness and transparency when it comes to the financial position and performance of the school.
If you share school financial information with employees, will this information get in the wrong hands? One would hope not. There is a risk of course, but I think this is where school leaders need to be wise about what they do and don’t share, and how it is shared. Since there is a chance of a leak, it pays to share summary information and only that which, while you don’t intend for it to become public, will not do too much damage if it does. I think it is wise to be careful about releasing financial information in printed or electronic form, and information that is more sensitive in nature could be shared verbally.
Some principles for sharing
While each school is different and it is ultimately up to the principal and business manager to decide what will and won’t be shared, here are some principles you might consider if you do decide to share financial information.
Having moved from a job in public service where I had a ‘job for life’ to my business manager position in a school on a 5 year contract, I had fleeting thoughts from time-to-time such as ‘What if I lose my job?’ Without dwelling on it too much at the time, my thoughts were that if I was doing okay or better still – doing great, what was there to be concerned about? I still hold that to be true. If I believe that my God is a provider and will care for me - even in the tough times - I do not need to be worried about where the food on my table or the clothes on my back will come from. (Luke 12:22-34) Off on a tangent, I do get concerned occasionally about the origins and content of my food and clothing - do they contain artificial things that are bad for me or my environment? Were they produced unethically? But I digress.
In this blog, I have unpacked this question of job risk in more detail by looking at the negative and positive factors, with the hope that by looking at both (but without unnecessarily worrying about them), one can identify some potential actions.
If your time is short – just read the headlines.
If you have your hand in the till, I hope you get caught and you’ll deserve everything you get! Don’t think more highly of yourself. Your Christian school is holy ground. As Christian business managers, we should be prepared to subject/submit ourselves to controls that demonstrate our integrity and uphold this as a Godly standard within our schools.
Loss of belief or Christian values
Christian schools employ Christian staff to be living examples of a life in Christ. A business manager that loses their faith and has no intention of being restored to faith has no place in a Christian school. However, many Christians go through seasons of challenge in their faith, and one would hope that a loving and encouraging Christian workplace – supported by a church family – would be the ideal environment for a person to be restored to faith.
Further, the business manager has an ideal opportunity to outwork their faith in many ways within a Christian school, and this privilege and opportunity should not be treated lightly.
Economy or enrolments
We know that a school’s business performance is significantly affected by enrolments. Growth provides plenty of opportunity, but decline is leveraged in the opposite direction. Business managers need to be astute to the different responses for growth, plateau or decline of a school can bring, and schools need to be agile when changes occur. Very hard decisions sometimes must be made, and a big decision is what happens to the school workforce. The agility of the school can be improved by considering such things as levels of debt, cash reserves, risk management, reduction strategies. It is important to reflect on the cost structure and staffing levels of the school at different enrolment sizes. There are schools around the country operating successfully at all different sizes, so the challenge for a business manager, principal and board is to develop successful strategies to navigate a changing environment while minimising adverse impacts on school community confidence.
Poor performance and incompetence
Everyone makes mistakes but it is how often mistakes occur coupled with the business manager’s prevailing attitude that will have an influence on how long a business manager will survive. A teacher will make an error of judgement about behaviour management or student welfare; an ICT network engineer may set permissions incorrectly; and a business manager will make an error when dealing with financial matters.
When it comes to incompetence, it is about not having the required skills or aptitude to perform the work to an acceptable standard. A business manager who is prone to error and fails to do anything about this by developing the skills and aptitude will suffer a double-whammy. The means of developing the required skills are obvious: study, training, application and a cycle of continuous improvement. Developing the right aptitude is a more complex challenge because it goes to the heart and values of a person. If a business manager does not recognise the need for good organisation and planning, quality review, work ethic, inter-personal skills etc., how will they develop these aptitudes?
A business manager must meditate and act on improving aptitude and skills to continue to be of value to their school.
Are you the business manager that everyone creeps around for fear of tipping you over the edge or bringing out your dark side? Do you snap at people? What do you think about the people around you? Do they irritate you?
You might get away with this for a season, but at some stage it may come to grief, and it is likely to be yours.
Do you feel like you are getting bitter and twisted (or ‘going feral’ as I once described my own circumstances)? Are you feeling like:
The principal – business manager relationship is one of the more significant relationships in a school, and probably one of the most significant for a business manager. The relationship, like all good ones, is a dance that requires two to tango, and must be worked on continuously.
When there is a change in principal, they bring with them their preferences (more hands-on; more hand-off; greater or less financial literacy; more aspirational and visionary – less conservative and prudent etc.). A business manager that has grown accustomed to their former principal’s ways might have a rude shock - so might the new principal!
A relationship that works well is one that is built upon mutual understanding, and this understanding can often be the accumulation of many interactions. With a new principal, ask directly and observe indirectly. What is their preference? Do they want to know more or less? Do they want to be informed of every nuance or activity, or are they more the delegating type? Get to know your new principal.
There is someone better
You shouldn’t believe the above statement. To do a job effectively – to own it; put your all into it; improve and develop yourself; and to be thankful for the role and influence one has in a Christian school – one has to believe it. But let’s look at a breakdown of the population:
The job has outgrown you
Have you ever heard the analogy of the frog in the boiling water? The water was body temperature at first but increased in temperature ever so slowly that the frog didn’t realise it was getting hot until it was too late!
We face an ever-increasing expectation of compliance and complexity in school finance and administration. Yesterday’s skills need to be continually updated. There are a range of accounting standards changes looming, as well as other legislative changes.
A business manager needs to decide whether they buy in this expertise or develop it themselves – or both.! But one thing is for sure, the status quo is no longer satisfactory.
There are a range of positive factors that business managers can do which, on balance, would increase job security.
Do you add value?
Business managers have a set of skills, knowledge and experience which might not exist elsewhere in the school. I remember our former Head of Senior School said to me one day when we were evaluating service proposals: “Where did you learn to do that?” Business managers should survey the school leadership landscape and look for opportunities to lead and deliver in areas that no-one else is attending to. There are a few things that need to be considered to make this work:
This can be in the form of doing the minimum, or it might be doing what I have always done and not being willing to try a new way or bring about improvement. While the busy business manager role doesn’t afford a lot of time to do more, is this the way that it should be? Do you look beyond your own work to that of your brother or sister?
Be a positive influence
What is your outlook or attitude towards circumstances? Do you walk around with a dour expression and you see the things that could go wrong rather than the possibilities of what could be? I am not suggesting for one moment that you throw out wisdom and good practice, but there is a point on the spectrum where stewardship turns into stinginess; where caution becomes fear; where critique becomes critical.
I was once told that there is a difference between managing and leading. Managing tends to focus on control and risk avoidance; status quo; pursuit of agreed targets etc. – all of these being worthy practices. Leadership, it is suggested, takes measured risks; inspires others to greater things; provides direction and structure where there is none; and sees a future of possibilities to be explored.
While I am not suggesting we all change our role titles, are you a business manager or a business leader? Do you approach your role with a healthy blend of both managing and leading?
Develop and lift up those around you
I am becoming increasingly sure that if we focus on those around us and less about ourselves, we can find personal satisfaction knowing that we are helping others (it’s the joy in giving). Do you focus on your own work and forget about others or do you give others an outstretched hand of support while you are doing your job.
A business manager who is insular and only thinks of themselves may be sowing a harvest for tomorrow, but it might be the wrong harvest.
I heard a visiting preacher at my church once preach ‘to tilt things in favour of favour’. If you are always treating others unfairly, with disdain or ignoring them, won’t you be treated likewise increasingly? Conversely, if you are striving to do good and have a positive influence on those around you, isn’t it more likely that others will treat you the same way?
Always have in mind the best interests of those around you.
Be willing and active in learning
Periodically we need to assess where we are at and how we are equipped to do our roles. For some, it might mean some study; it might be self-paced and structured learning; and for others it might be exposing yourself to new experiences and projects which take you to new experiences and thinking.
For those of us who are qualified accountants, we are required to undertake continuing professional development to remain sharp and skilled at what we do – for CPA Australia, it is 120 hours every three years (that’s not much). If you don’t have this requirement, why not consider your own target of how much time you invest each year. But don’t do it just by attending seminars – do something deep and stretching. When I got a new guitar, I didn’t just look at it and admire it – I unpacked it and applied it! I believe this benchmark to be true – an expert (or a talented person) becomes that through 10,000 hours of practice, and I believe a similar concept applies to our professional lives. I didn’t pop out of my mother’s womb and immediately demonstrate a knowledge of accounting standards – oh if it were that easy!
Be flexible and have a can-do attitude
As business managers and accountants, our tool kit contains processes and systems. To make sense of so much of what we deal with, we need a bit of structure and consistency. I once heard a statement that ‘consistency equals quality’ and I think that is mostly true. However, we can sometimes get fixated on the process or system, but it is only a means to an end – the ‘end’ is what we are really after.
So next time you encounter a person or a problem (or both packaged as one), consider if some flexibility will go some way to creating a win-win situation. Is there a way it can be done which achieves the end but gets there in a way that better meets the situation at hand?
Sticking to your guns about ‘the process’ might only demonstrate that you are inflexible and more interested in procedure than you are about outcomes.
Demonstrate integrity and be accountable
In our roles – maybe more than many others – the words ‘integrity’ and ‘accountability’ have real meaning. I think that is because many believe that money has been such a source of corruption and failure for so many people. If we are dealing with a subject matter that is inherently tricky, isn’t it all the more reason that we should carry out our roles with integrity and accountability? We should demonstrate our own buy-in to these with practical and visible examples for those around us of the high standard we hold ourselves to. Sometimes, this means setting a standard higher than what is acceptable to demonstrate to those around us that our schools are in good hands (clean hands and a pure heart – Psalm 24:4).
Submit to authority
Have robust discussions and speak your mind – for sure – but know that you are working under authority and must respect that authority. In my mind, submission has a very practical flavor – support your boss in front of others; support the changes that are being implemented, even if you would do it a different way yourself. There may be some rare times when you have ‘a hill to die for’ (whistle-blowing is one such scenario), but don’t overuse that card too much.
Work through differences in an impersonal way
I know that I am a fallen individual and am not perfect in many areas. I have decided that if ever I am caught in a disagreement, I have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the current circumstances. I firmly believe that being vulnerable and contrite in these circumstances is a valuable olive branch of peace that would cause a decent person to treat me in the same manner.
If you are caught in a disagreement or grievance, do your utmost as early as possible to find resolution and sort out your differences, and as much as possible, try not to make it personal or take it personally. There may be times of course where you are not dealing with a reasonable person, and you have to do what you can and leave the situation to God, always being prepared when called upon to have another go at resolution.
One of the most powerful and impacting situations I have seen was when a teacher yelled severely at his students. When called before the principal, he was very contrite. However, he went further. He not only apologized to his class – he sought their forgiveness. What a wonderful example to young people of the power of humility.
There is an opportunity for relationships to be even more enduring and robust if such situations are dealt with in a humble, contrite and restorative way.
Be organised and structured
Our roles often bring order, structure and reliability to our schools. You might have heard the phrase ‘The gardener has the worst garden’ meaning what one does professionally might not be what one does personally. Do you conduct your own personal affairs and indeed the way you conduct your work role to demonstrate your belief in and support of the practices that you espouse for your school?
How you organise and manage your own affairs reflects on the approach that you will and do take for your school.
I was recently asked how I managed to get everything done and not work long hours. The implication in the question was that there is an increasing difficulty to find a balance in workload and in particular, deal with the volume of emails to be dealt with.
I think my first reaction would be ‘How did *I* deal with it? Not too well!’ I must be honest with this because I was working a minimum of 55 hours per week, and some weeks quite a bit more than this. However, I only worked 8 minutes from home, so my logic was that I could well be home earlier than many others. Also, my attitude was to give generously to my workplace as a form of mission service for God.
However, at the end of 2018, I made a decision that I wanted to ‘lead a simpler life’, so I can hardly say I had the problem solved.
Here is a summary of the things that I did to try to bring some balance. It is quite long, and I think that it reflects the truth that there is not one single cause and no silver bullet solution either.
Ask yourself if your busy-ness is self-inflicted? For me, I think it was in part. One of my reflections that I had in early 2019 was to ask myself whether my purpose and worth was held in my busy-ness and being central to a lot of things. Having accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience, it can be very satisfying to help people by sharing that knowledge and experience, but how much was I using that to reinforce my worth? By about March, I was feeling ‘out of touch’ with what was going on at the School. I still had my Tyndale email address (I am still employed by Tyndale), but it was nowhere nearly as busy as it had been. Was everything going okay? I heard God say to me ‘Andrew (because he doesn’t call me Andy out of respect for my wishes) you are not defined by this.’ It was like a very mild form of cold turkey withdrawal. Even now I have to be careful that I don’t allow this to be transferred into a different form. It is hard because there is a balance between wanting to serve and needing to look after myself.
I pray that some of this content has been useful to you and that you continue to hear what God is saying to you about your purpose, worth and work/life balance.
Over the last decade or so, many schools have seen a gradual drift away from lump sum payments to payment by instalment. It is a part of 21st century life that you ‘pay as you go’ rather than saving up and paying upfront: we pay a monthly fee for streaming our music and video rather than buying a CD or a DVD; we pay a service fee for Office 365 rather than buying the licence upfront.
So while lump sum payment of school fees is less common than it once was, where it is offered, we have to ask ‘Is the discount offered worth it?’ The answer to this question lies in our understanding of finance principles.
We need to recognise that there are two parties to this transaction. Firstly, the school which receives cash inflows earlier and can therefore use these funds for other purposes. After all, the discount is being offered so that the school receives the funds at the beginning of the year rather than being drip fed over the course of the year. There is also a risk element here: receiving the payment upfront means there is no chance of default or delay during the year. Secondly, the parent that receives a discount benefit for the full year payment – after all, a discount is pretty much the same as an investment return of interest earned. To work out if this is beneficial to either party, we need to understand the ‘cost of funds’ for each.
Let’s look at an example.
A school offers a 5% discount if a parent pays the school fees upfront for the whole year. Mrs and Mrs A have annual school fees of $10,000 prior to early payment discount, and they would normally pay this off over 12 four-weekly instalments of $833.33 each. Normally, they are earning 1.5% bank interest on their savings. Is this a good deal for Mrs and Mrs A? Let’s say the school has bank loans with a 6% rate of interest, and any funds received can be put towards reducing the bank loan. For the school, forgoing 5% to get 6% sounds good, but is it?
The parents might earn 1.5% on their savings, but they get 5% back from the school – this sounds great – and it is! The table below shows that Mr and Mrs A’s school fee balance reduces from $10,000 down to $0 when paying by instalment, and assuming they have $10,000 in their bank account to be able to consider this option in the first place, they would earn $11.50 interest in the first period, then $10.54 in the second and so on. In order to gain the early payment discount of $500.00, they would forgo $75.38 in bank interest. Let’s not forget that Mr and Mrs A pay income tax on their interest earnings, so the benefit is actually greater – around $450 after tax. In fact, for bank interest to match the early payment discount in this example, Mr and Mrs A would need to earn at a bank interest rate of just over 14% before tax to equal the discount offered by the school. To put it another way, any early payment discount rate above 0.5% is better than Mr and Mrs A’s bank interest alternative.
For the school, assuming Mr and Mrs A paid by instalment, the school would receive $833.33 every four weeks, earning them $3.83 interest in the first period; $7.68 in the second; accumulating and compounding to a total of $304.07 over the 12 periods. However, if they received the net amount after early payment discount of $9,500.00, they would earn $43.70 for the first period, accumulating and compounding to $537.82 – a gain of over $230. One could also argue that the school has their money up-front, and therefore there is no risk of delayed payment or default, which would add additional interest and administration costs. For the school, the comparison is $537.82 interest earned versus [$304.07 less delay or default costs].
It looks like everyone is a winner! However, Mr and Mrs A are greater winners than the school, so in this example, there is scope to reduce the early payment discount rate to make the benefit for the school greater while still providing a decent incentive for the parents.
The above conclusions are based on the single example I have provided. So I was interested to see whether this changes (from a school perspective) according to ranges of early payment discount rates and 'cost of capital' rates - whether that be interest rate earned on savings or interest rate paid on school borrowings. I was pleasantly surprised - there isn't much difference for the ranges of rates used in the comparison table. To be clear, each of the financial amounts in the table is the difference (gain) in interest earned/saved by the school when comparing early payment discounted cash flows with normal instalment cash flows, based on $10,000 school fees; annual early payment discount and 12 x 4 week instalments. This comparison also assumes that the 'cost of capital' for the school is even over the periods involved. Of course, cost of capital can vary seasonally for a school - say moving from interest earned > interest on loans > interest on overdraft.
Over my years working in the public service and schools, I have supervised and given many performance appraisals/employee development discussions/whatever you want to call them. I have worked with some wonderful people who were wonderful to start with or became even more wonderful over a period of time. I have also worked with a very small number of employees who (to use a phrase from someone I greatly admire) were encouraged to seek excellence elsewhere. We also lost some people (that we would dearly have loved to keep) to other employers.
When I initially developed our school's performance development system for support and administration staff (I don't like calling them non-teaching as that term defines people by what they don't do), I developed a rating scale (a little bit about this later whether this is a good idea) which was comprised of the following ratings:
I have to admit that when confronted with survey ratings from 1 to 10 (where 10 is good), I am *that* person that has a great deal of difficulty giving a '10'. So in this context, I don't know why I bothered with category 1 in the list above. If we ever had such a person, would we be able to keep them? Would we have deserved them? Surely they would have been only one step away from performing a role well beyond the bounds of a Christian school! But what I also found over the years was that few people made it to category 2 because most people have an area of improvement (category 4). If they didn't, they found themselves being labelled 'satisfactory' (category 3). Who wants to be labelled 'satisfactory'? That's like being called 'ordinary'. You can see that my rating scale had its inadequacies - like its creator. I found quite soon that I didn't find it was useful or respectful.
I found that there were many people that tried really hard and had a desire to do their best. But most people - and I plonk myself squarely into this summary as well - had some areas of improvement or had some baggage that came with the package deal. The 'baggage' might be issues such as:
It took a while, but I realised after a period of time (actually a few years - I can be slow on the uptake sometimes) that most if not all people experience one or more of the above to different degrees - not the least me. They can be very solid workers; give their all; are committed; but when faced with a scale like the one above that I had developed, would come up short. The scale was wrong. There is no such thing as 'outstanding or exceptional performance on a standard rarely achieved by others'. It doesn't exist! Furthermore, the rating (or my implementation of it) 'Performance which is consistently at a high level of competence' is quite rare as well.
But I am not alone. I did a bit of googling for 'attributes of the ideal employee', and I found this article that listed 20 top qualities: (https://www.cleverism.com/20-top-qualities-determine-great-employee/) (Actually, I found lots more web lists and they all confirmed this list in one way or another, so for the sake of it, I'm running with it.)
I've grown tired just reading the list! How on earth (or where on earth) would you find such a person that meets these requirements all the time?
In recent years, I came to the realisation that I had to adjust my views. The scale I was using was too harsh and set expectations that would be difficult for anyone to meet. I felt that I was doing a disservice to those people that I was working with. The scale implied there was a good supply of people across a range of performances, like in Chart A below:
In fact, the supply of performing employees is really more like the area in Chart B. When I realised this, it changed how I could give more effective performance feedback to my work colleagues, and enabled me to find new ways of motivating and encouraging them, and finding out what I needed to do to help them succeed. Now, for me, normal is the new brilliant. I am not saying that I needed to reward mediocrity - but I am saying that I needed to adjust what was reasonable in my own mind so that I could see where employees were really striving to improve and then having success. I needed the system to better respect what employees were offering and their level of performance. Don't get me wrong - I would hope that most if not all people that I have worked with have found me to be encouraging, respectful, open and approachable, calm, positive and having a keen interest in seeing them succeed - but that wasn't reflected in the scale I was using in the performance systems I was using.
We have to develop people, and this needs to be done incrementally and progressively. One of my regrets (I've had a few) is that I couldn't devote as much time to working with employees to help them succeed because of my own - sometimes self-imposed - workload. The urgent was always getting in the way of the important. When I did have performance feedback discussions, I had to work against the feeling that I was 'pumping them out like sausages out of a sausage maker'.
A few people have heard me tell this story before (apologies for this) but it has really resonated with me about the value of work colleagues. It was a story I heard presented at a CSA Leaders conference years ago, and was given by a partner of a Christian consulting firm (I now have forgotten who it was and which firm), and the presenter's story went like this...
"When we were looking for new consultants, we would meet to pray, and our prayer would go something like this: 'Lord - help us to find the right person for this job.' After some time, our prayer evolved: 'Lord - help us to find the right person for the job that has been developing themselves over many years for such a job as this.' While this was a great step forwards in our thinking, we further evolved the prayer to become very powerful for us as a Christian employer: 'Lord - help us to be the employer that is deserving of someone that has developed themselves over many years for such a job as this.'"
Lord - help us as leaders and managers of people to be encouraging, respectful, open and approachable, calm, positive and having a keen interest in seeing our colleagues succeed. Help us to see that you have placed them with our schools, and each of them are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help me to be the business manager that is deserving of their talents, efforts, passion and support. Where I have to provide feedback, let it be encouraging and insightful. Help me to allocate the time regularly for meaningful conversations which are uplifting and respectful, yet which do not shy from sometimes difficult conversations. And when I speak to others, may I be open and vulnerable enough to accept and learn what I need to change in my own performance. Let me be a business manager who is deserving of the people that you bring across my path. In Jesus name... Amen!
Integrity and ethics permeate almost every waking hour of a school leader’s life, and here are just a few examples…
One of the closest disciplines that represents the issues faced by business managers and bursars is the role of professional accountant. For accountants, ethics is central to the public trust obligations expected of them, and the Accounting Professional & Ethical Standards Board (APESB) is a national body that sets out the code of ethics and professional standards with which accounting professionals who are members of professional bodies must comply (APES110 Code of ethics for professional accountants). I am not implying that the accounting profession is the only profession that faces matters of integrity or public trust, but that deliberate and specific practices and standards are required to ensure that integrity and ethical conduct is maintained in many professions.
In schools, there are things to be done (or not done) because the law prescribes them. These are further extended by the ‘laws’ within our schools – the policies that are set to specify the school’s position and treatment of a matter or subject. Let’s call all of this ‘compliance’. But integrity should go much deeper than just complying with laws or policy – it should be more than following rules, but what is it?
The foundation of ethical behavior (integrity) is moral awareness. To maintain a standard, that standard must be known, accepted and acted upon. But how do we develop and maintain integrity and the required standards? There are at least three theories (and probably more) that describe how ethical behavior and standards are attained.
Duty-based ethics asserts that it is the intention behind the act itself that is more important than the results of the act. German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) posited that persons of goodwill are motivated by a sense of duty to do the right thing. This theory would say that it is always wrong to tell a lie and there is a duty to tell the truth.
Consequence-based ethics proposes that it is not duty that is fundamental to ethics, but the consequences or impact of our decision-making. Those decisions and actions that cause no or minimal impact are inconsequential and therefore should not be a concern to an ethical person. This theory would say that a lie is not bad if the outcomes that flow from it are not bad. This is like choosing between the ‘lesser of two evils’ – and sometimes we have to do this.
Virtue ethics states that it is not out of duty or the consequences of decisions, but out of the moral values inherent in a person, such as integrity, good character and an innate desire to do good based on virtues such as courage, courtesy, compassion, generosity, fairness, fidelity, friendliness, honesty, integrity, prudence and self-control. This theory assumes that virtues are not natural or inborn but are developed through practice and experience. Through repetition and learning, these virtues become a habit or a natural reaction. Virtue ethics would say “I don’t tell lies.”
While virtue ethics appears to have the higher ground of these theories, all three theories hold something of value to help us navigate these sometimes-tricky waters.
Virtue ethics reminds me of verse in Philippians 4:8:
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
In fact, the scriptures give us much guidance about ethics and integrity:
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psalm 78:72 [Note here how the verse links integrity and skill.]
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:3
“May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.” Psalm 25:21
“Because of my integrity, you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.” Psalm 41:12
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 10:9
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.” Titus 2:7-9
If we distill the main points from these verses, we have some excellent encouragement for living and working with integrity. The continual practice and upholding of integrity can become a guiding force in one’s life. It will become a habit and a natural reaction to circumstances and will be buried in our hearts. It should be something that we hold dearly to.
The practice of integrity also draws upon a desire for excellence using skill, judgement, objectivity and effective decision-making. We are to do everything with a willing heart and a desire for excellence. Integrity is coupled with good speech (careful, considered, positive, honest, encouraging) and being serious and believable with what one says. The practice and intentional outworking with integrity can draw us closer to God, and as Christians, we will draw closer to Him for guidance and strength when dealing with these circumstances.
There is a burden of worry or guilt in not being upright. Honesty and integrity bring about freedom. “The truth shall set you free.”
We are asked to do good in everything – not just part of our lives. Living with integrity in everything we do is more likely to bring about a natural reaction on our part, rather than remembering to turn it on or off according to circumstances. If we show integrity even with those that are closest to us and know us best, how much more will we do this for others that we are less acquainted? Acting without integrity – or with sloppy or selective integrity – can bring us down and destroy us.
In becoming people of integrity and it being part of who we are, we begin to model it for others – it can’t help but be on display and giving those around us the confidence that we are always seeking the best in everything we do. If our integrity is inherent in everything we do, others will notice it, whether it is subtle in our language and actions, or whether we proclaim it explicitly as a guiding value in our decisions.
Acting with integrity avoids or is a defense against accusations – it is a protection. If others know we strive for integrity, we are much less likely to face accusations. Others may support us and speak favourably on our behalf. Acting with integrity is powerful as it deals with both the reality and the perception.
Integrity also ensures that the gospel remains ‘attractive’ to students, parents, governors, regulators, and authorities. This reminds us that leaders in Christian schools should be leaders in excellence and integrity.
If we have chosen a path of integrity for ourselves, we have to be careful that we do not begin to lecture or judge others based on our own high standards. But rather, our words and deeds that are inherent in our responses and actions will be an inspiration for others to find their own path of integrity, and hopefully, drawing closer to the author of our integrity.
Lord – help us to develop integrity in all parts of our lives. Let it be our natural response to all situations because we know it is pleasing to You and is part of us becoming more like Christ. Continually develop and remind us through life’s circumstances to practice and learn integrity so that it is our preferred and natural response. Give us your courage and wisdom to act with integrity whether anyone is watching or not. May you be honoured and glorifed through this. Amen!