As a professional speaker and author of a book on customer service, some would find it odd that I would find myself speaking for School Boards Associations and groups within education. Customer service is for people who sell right? Wrong. As Daniel Pink says “we all have customers”, and although school boards don’t sell a traditional good or service, successful boards employ the same attributes as top sales professionals and service providers.

As a parent of three children in the public school system, I have become more than a passive observer to the successes and failures of our school board. We recently passed an initiative in our school system that will bring the International Baccalaureate program to our schools. IB is a rigorous academic program that is available to all students, but it’s not for every student. As a parent, I fantasize that all of my children are Rhodes Scholars in the making, so I eagerly watched the approval process unfold, and was surprised at what I discovered.

Since there are no educational requirements to serve on a school board, you can have a Phd or EdD, sitting next to the town idiot who happens to be the most popular guy at the Elks Lodge. I don’t mean to disparage Elks, or idiots for that matter, but since School Boards are often comprised of board members with dissimilar backgrounds, the first attribute of a successful board is a what I call THE CHEERS MENTALITY.

If you ever watched the show Cheers, then you certainly remember the theme song that ended with “you want to go where everybody knows your name”. People want to be around people who make them feel good. Board members are more productive when operating within a culture of respect. So often school board meetings become so adversarial and confrontational due to the fact that multiple constituencies are being represented and many mistake confrontation with advocacy. The most effective board meetings are ones where a respectful and collegial tone is maintained at all times despite differences of opinion.

The next attribute of a successful school board is THE BAND LEADER MENTALITY.  For ten years I wrote songs in Nashville, Tennessee for a publishing company. While I was in Nashville, I was the front man for a country music band. As I wrote about in my book, The Pancake Principle: seventeen sticky ways to make your customers FLIP for you, the best band leaders are those who set the tone, tempo, and feel of the song, then lets the musicians “do their thing” within the framework established. The same is true for a successful school board. The job of the school board is to create a platform of support so the superintendent, principals, administrators, and educators can “do their thing” and do that which they are trained to do. The worst school boards micromanage their districts into ineffectiveness.

Finally, successful school boards serve their customers through TRANSPARENCY OF ACTION. We recently lost a qualified and progressive school superintendent. My opinion is that it was due to her unwillingness to stroke the ego of some of the board. The specific cause of the termination was shrouded in secrecy and innuendo which fanned the flame of suspicion and caused a vitriolic split in the board. I believe that reasonable people concede that a school board member has a difficult task and are forced to make decisions that are not always popular. A school board that maintains transparency through continuous communication with their community will elimate suspicion that arises due to secrecy and closed door policies.


Patrick Henry is a professional speaker, author, and songwriter who delivers entertaining and hilarious keynote speeches that shows how to create an extraordinary customer experience. For information about how to bring Patrick to speak for your group visit www.patrickhenryspeaker.com


  1. bookwormlab on February 4, 2020 at 8:53 pm

    Just before you go on stage, you can try to memorize your speech one more time Also, as the article said, know what your topic is about. Make eye contact with your audience, but don’t focus on a particular person.

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