Garhett Wagers, headmaster at St. Mark’s Episcopal School, was looking for a different way to lead – not just his own leadership journey but also for his leadership team and, ultimately, for the school itself.
“I could imagine how to be and do better,” said Wagers. “But to make that happen, I needed a different approach – one that could both challenge the way I saw those ideas and help our entire leadership team adopt a collaborative process to turn our vision into meaningful strategy.”
At St. Mark’s the leadership team extended beyond Wagers and other lifelong educators who had been elevated into leadership roles. Also included were the administrative staff as well as those responsible for operations and fundraising. They brought their unique views about what leadership looked like and how teams should be structured.
“I could imagine how to be and do better. But to make that happen, I needed a different approach – one that could both challenge the way I saw those ideas and help our entire leadership team adopt a collaborative process to turn our vision into meaningful strategy.”
Flattening hierarchies and empowering people
What started with Strelo Co-Founder Joanne Chu’s one-on-one coaching with Wagers soon grew into future-focused team development. Through a new leadership lens and Strelo as his strategic partner, Wagers saw how to improve the entire operation: how the leadership team worked, how they shared information, how they managed time, and how they translated deliberation into action. This included shifting meetings away from discussions that were reactive and often unfocused to productive conversations and timely decision-making.
Strelo began facilitating St. Mark’s annual leadership team retreats as well as mid-year team check-ins, where Chu meets with the school’s leaders individually and in small-team settings. Over the years, participants learned how to strengthen the work of their teams by identifying expected outcomes, building shared commitment, and knowing how to bring the right people into the room.
“This structure got us all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction,” said Wagers. “And, most importantly, with clarity on where we were headed.”
The move from individual to team think was not immediate; it took time to learn and practice new leadership and communication skills. And, as Wagers described, it also meant learning to “speak a new leadership language.”
“We learned how to flatten hierarchies and empower people to have a sense of agency about what they’re responsible for and how to include their stakeholders in the decision-making process,” said Wagers.
The team also adopted planning processes that were more strategic and less tactical. With input from Strelo, these new processes engaged broader groups of stakeholders, resulting in actionable plans and objectives as well as operationalizing the things necessary to realize those objectives.
“Together we were able to think beyond education today and consider what it will look like in the future to prepare children for the world that they’re heading into,” said Wagers.
“Strelo’s structure got us all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. And, most importantly, with clarity on where we were headed.”
About St. Mark’s Episcopal School
Houston-based St. Mark’s Episcopal School is an independent co-educational day school, with about 450 students in preschool through eighth grade. The school is community engaged and purposefully small, creating an environment that encourages students, faculty, and staff to embrace constant curiosity and a passion for discovery.