Leadership Series 4: Response Time


My mother is dating (It’s ok, she has been divorced for about 40 years).  She shared with me that she had enjoyed a nice first date experience, but now the long-term prospects were dimming for this particular gentleman.


Response time.

She had recently called him and he had, as of this writing, not yet returned her phone call.  His response time had fallen way outside of her expectation window.

Consider how your stakeholders view your personal response times to them.

How do you manage the many requests that you receive via email, phone messages, and from in the hallway conversations with staff and students while still being the highly visible Principal that your students and staff need?

It is a good leadership practice to thoughtfully consider before making any response to an email, phone or personal inquiry (remember, when the leader opens their mouth they make policy), but you need to communicate some acknowledgement of receipt message to all inquiries you receive from your stakeholders.

You also need to emphasize response time to your staff or you will find yourselves personally handling stakeholder problems while leading a school full of staff members that are certain no one in leadership listens to them.

Here are a few tips to manage response time:

  • Train your secretary to go beyond simple message taking when they receive a call.  They should feel empowered to redirect phone calls made to you to another person in your organization and be able to effectively communicate the reasons for doing so with the stakeholder.
  • Develop an electronic or paper system to keep track of all the inquiries you receive
  • Habitually mark as unread any emails you read but to which you do not immediately respond. Consider printing out critical emails until you are ready to respond.
  • If you delegate messages sent to you without personally responding, then you must have a good system for ensuring that whoever you delegated the message to responds in a timely manner. In the perception of the stakeholder, the failure to respond on time will be viewed as your personal failure.
  • Model 24 hour response and require it of your staff.
  • Make the tough phone call before you go home, especially if it is from a first time inquirer.

Final Thought:

Certain stakeholders will demand your attention and not be satisfied until YOU respond to them personally. This cannot be avoided, but if you have a good plan to handle all other inquiries then you will have time for those particular cases.