Empowering Leaders Interview Series: Elizabeth Jameson – Governance & Why It’s Vital for Leadership

05 April 2017

In our Empowering Leaders Interview Series, each of the headlining presenters from the Alliance’s Empowering Leaders Masterclass discuss leadership in relation to their area of expertise.

Designed specifically for ambitious educators, the Empowering Leaders Masterclass is a unique two-day program focused on developing leadership capability and confidence and enabling career progression.



In this interview, Director and Founder of Board Matters, Ms Elizabeth Jameson, reveals her own pathway to leadership and how partnership and robust governance is vital to school success. Ms Jameson is also Chair of the Board at Brisbane Girls Grammar School and Queensland Theatre and on the Board of Directors of RACQ and Queensland Police Service.

What are a few key leadership qualities a school board looks for in a principal?

First and foremost, a passion for education and its possibilities. Leadership is relative to the ‘cause’ in question and for a school the ‘cause’ is the provision of educational possibilities that make for a well-rounded life. In addition to the core passion, I think (and hope) a school board looks for someone who likes young people and brings energy, drive and a preparedness to both manage (understanding and working with both teaching and administrative staff to deliver outcomes) as well as to lead (working with the board and senior staff to paint a picture of an even more exciting future for the school).

How should a principal work with a board to find a balance between making their own autonomous decisions and relying on the board to make the tough choices?

To me, this is a very simple answer. It is essential to agree a very clear statement of matters reserved to the board and delegations to the principal. This document should be a living document. It should change over time as the principal gains in experience and so is gradually conferred with increasing levels of autonomy. However, this explicit allocation of decision-making authorities should not be thought of as a replacement for a mature board/principal relationship in which the principal freely brings to the board issues for discussion even when she has delegated decision-making authority. If the relationship is good, the principal should look to the board as a useful sounding board even where the principal holds decision-making power.

How important is succession planning within schools at the senior level?

It is of critical importance, although is something which, in my experience, is not done particularly well in schools. Part of the problem is that we use the expression ‘succession planning’ which suggests that the successor for the principal or for the senior staff should always be within the organisation and ‘waiting in the wings’ to step in. This is not realistic for organisations of this size. The exercise should, rather, be tackled as a question of ‘capacity planning’; in which the principal and the board discuss on an annual basis the capacity within senior management for short-term, mid-term or long-term successors for each of the senior positions within the school. This leads to discussions about talent-management, leadership and professional development to ensure that there is sufficient depth within the school’s staff.

You hold a number of enviable leadership positions, including Chair of the Board of Brisbane Girls Grammar School and the Queensland Theatre, your directorships at your own company, Board Matters, and also RACQ and Queensland Police Service. Did you actively develop your leadership skills in order to further your career or were they learned naturally as you progressed from role to role?

Like most people, I suspect, I did not consciously develop ‘leadership skills’ and certainly not in order to further my career. Rather, my career has been shaped by early leadership experiences (yes, including at school!) and then by getting involved with organisations that did things that mattered to me. For me, that has always meant organisations involved in education and the arts, in particular, but has also led me on to getting involved through board work with organisations covering a vast array of different endeavours. From those early board experiences on small fledgling arts organisations through to my current day experience of boards of major organisations like RACQ and the Queensland Police Service, I have without doubt learnt much about good leadership. My role as Chair of Brisbane Girls Grammar School has given me a great deal of satisfaction but has also confronted me with some of the greatest leadership challenges of my career. I suspect that when I look back over the course of my career, I will consider my school board role to be one of the most formative, in terms of developing leadership skills, in my career.

Give us a taster of what Masterclass attendees can expect to learn from your session?

I am sufficiently passionate above governance that it constantly amazes me how ‘misunderstood’ boards are! My goal in the session is to ‘lift the lid’ on what boards do, why they ask the questions they ask and why we even need them. Boards are a critical mechanism that provide governance checks and balances on the way the school is run and the way its precious resources are allocated. By the end of my session, it is my hope that the lid is lifted, the genie is out of the bottle and attendees have a deeper understanding of how best to influence (in a good way) the board in their school but also to fire people up with enthusiasm to get on boards.


Don’t miss Elizabeth’s insightful session at the upcoming Empowering Leaders Masterclass.