From SBM to COO – an Origins Story

by Abigal Evans @LwLAT_COO

I’ve been reflecting on what actually inspired me to set off, tentatively, down the road from School Business Manager (SBM)  to Chief Operating Officer (COO) and have narrowed it down to two significant light bulb moments. 


1. Nigel Risner's presentation at the then NASBM annual conference in 2016 when he asked the audience to read this slide: opportunityisnowhere. And then to read it again.
2. Discovering the ISBL Professional Standard for Emotional Intelligence

In 2016 I’d been an SBM for a couple of years and felt established in my role but, as many have echoed, also isolated in my school with few peers to relate to. I was #10%braver and went off to the NASBM (now ISBL) annual conference and was delighted to find a room full of like-minded individuals and to be told for two days, in no uncertain terms, just how fabulous and important we all were. It made a refreshing and very welcome change!

I started to think differently about my role and the impact I was having. I started to see how I fitted into a wider community of business leaders. I appreciated that true drive and passion to improve educational outcomes can come in many forms, not just teaching. SBMs are the backbone of any setting and without us taking care of all that ‘non-teaching stuff’ the magic in the classroom just can’t happen.

At this time Twitter was still quite new so I reached out to several local SBMs groups. I started to network and grow my own practice by tapping into an incredible collective bank of knowledge and expertise. I also read Nigel Risner’s book It's a Zoo Around Here": The New Rules for Better Communication. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was taking the first steps on my journey to executive leadership.

I now wanted to establish myself as a credible professional and I turned to the Professional Standards newly developed by NASBM. I worked my way through them and at the very back came across the Behaviours section which referenced Emotional Intelligence (EI). This is not something I’d come across before. Intrigued I went online and discovered Daniel Goleman, a leading expert in the field of EI. I ordered his book Emotional Intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ. Amazing! This encouraged me down a couple of other paths; one leading to the importance of kindness, the other to changing your mindset. Daniel Goleman wrote several books transcribing the meetings of the Dalai Lama and the world’s leading scientific minds, all of which I found absolutely fascinating and truly inspiring. I went on to read books by the Dalai Lama himself which have had undeniably shaped how I see the world and my place in it.

In a more professional context I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: Changing The Way You think to Fulfil Your Potential. Again, this transformed my perspective and showed me that you can’t change what happens to you but you can choose your attitude towards it. Game changer! Building on this concept of choice Eat That Frog!: Get More Of The Important Things Done Today by Brian Tracy helped me translate what I’d been reading into practical advice for the workplace.

I started my journey as a hardworking, dedicated SBM with genuine commitment to having a positive impact on those around me; students and staff – just like the overwhelming majority of SBMs and SBLs. The seismic shift for me was when I looked up, saw and connected with others in my field. Their presence inspired me to look beyond the confines of my own school and embrace a wider network of possibilities. My hope is to inspire others to do the same.

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