LEADING BY EXAMPLE
August 21, 2012
"Leaders are made, they are not born," according to American football coach Vince Lombardi's oft-repeated quote. Cathy Boese, PTO president at Bancroft Elementary in Andover, Mass., would tend to agree with that sentiment. This mother of four was so busy tending her brood, her eldest was a 3rd grader before she could even consider simple volunteer tasks at school. At that point, Boese became a room mom, and slowly her involvement grew. When her youngest started kindergarten in 2010, she became PTO vice president, then graduated to the top job the next year. She'll continue the assignment in the 2012-13 school year, along with a copresident.
Boese's style is to lead by example. She also firmly believes in not judging other people. "So often you'll hear whispers: 'Oh, why doesn't this person volunteer? Why doesn't that person volunteer? She's not doing anything.' And I think back to my own experience and how I didn't do anything at the school until my oldest daughter was in 3rd grade. That's four years of not doing anything other than contributing to fundraisers and going to events," she says. "And for me, as president now, that's a huge part of it....just coming to the events. That's all I can ask for people to do is to come to our events and to make a point of telling them they're really helping the school by participating in our fundraisers and coming to the different events."
Her soft approach works. People don't run the other way when they see Boese coming. By fostering a sense of community, she manages to round up plenty of volunteers who really want to be involved. And like all good leaders, she knows how to delegate.
In 2011, the school held an inaugural fun run called "Book It to the Finish," which included a book swap. It tied in nicely with her ongoing campaign to have the PTO focus on instilling a love of reading in kids. It also showcased her delegating skills. Boese managed to convince her runner husband to cochair the event with a Bancroft teacher who is also a running enthusiast. And although Boese was there that day dressed up as storybook character Raggedy Ann, her role was more of cheerleader than minutiae manager. Similarly, she assembles capable volunteer crews to run the school's twice-yearly book fairs. To boost sales last winter, a hot chocolate night was held and Boese recruited a number of parents to read stories to the kids while others shopped.
"I think it's knowing the people and recognizing what their strengths are," Boese says of her success in keeping volunteer ranks vital. No doubt people appreciate the kind appreciation notes she sends and the personal thank-yous she posts on the school website, as well.
Boese didn't set out to be a leader, but she has accepted and grown into the role with grace. She states that managing a house and four kids is the best class in leadership and management anyone could get. "If I could handpick the next president of the United States, I would make sure it was a mother of four kids or more," she says with a laugh.
No matter how she arrived at the position, Bancroft Elementary is fortunate to reap the benefits of Boese's gentle but effective style.
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: John Soares