Sunday, March 6, 2016

10 Things Great Leaders Do

"Great leaders don't succeed because they are great. They succeed because they bring out greatness in others." - Jon Gordon

There is no shortage of advice on the characteristics, qualities, and attributes that make up a great leader. As I have written in the past, leadership is a choice. It does not rely on a title or power, but instead, the actions that one takes. Leadership is the ability to move people to where they need to be instead of telling them what to do. 

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Below I offer what I consider to be ten things that all great leaders do:

  1. Adapt When Needed – A great leader knows that his or her respective leadership style will never work for everyone. Being able to successfully navigate different personalities and situations requires flexibility as well as a willingness to change course on the fly.
  2. Love the Work - Enjoying the work provides the resolve to persevere when challenges arise. Most of all great leaders have fun and do what it takes to ensure others have fun as well.
  3. Show Appreciation – Any great leader knows that success is not isolated to one woman or man in an organization.  Leadership is a collective effort where everyone plays a role. Great leaders go out of their way to put others on a pedestal while consistently praising efforts both in public and private.
  4. Eliminate excuses – Challenges and obstacles will always be prevalent in any organization, especially schools. These often morph into excuses as to why certain initiatives can’t be accomplished. Great leaders clear the way for staff by removing obstacles and challenges through empowerment and autonomy.
  5. Establish a Focus Through Vision – A clear vision provides guidance as to not only the goals at hand, but also how to accomplish them. Great leaders work with stakeholders to develop a shared vision and resulting plan for action that keeps everyone focused on a goal of improving student learning. Great leaders also know that vision is not enough.
  6. Model Expectations – A great leader never asks anyone to do what he or she is not willing to at least try. Setting an example by putting yourself in the shoes of others provides the inspiration and motivation for staff to embrace change.
  7. Start Small – Great leaders don’t set out to radically change school culture in one fell swoop. They understand that success is the culmination of numerous small wins that build momentum for larger changes. 
  8. Know When to Delegate – Common sense dictates that no one can do it alone. Great leaders exhibit trust in others when certain tasks are passed along.  This in itself works to develop more leaders across an organization. The process of delegation also allows for more of a focus on the larger issues at hand.
  9. Provide Meaningful Feedback – There is a big difference between meaningful feedback and criticism. Great leaders articulate where staff excels and specific areas of growth. Meaningful feedback is the fuel for improvement.
  10. Communicate Effectively - You will not find a great leader who is not a master communicator.  Great leaders understand that listening, facilitating dialogue, asking questions, creating an open environment, and getting to the point clearly are essential. They also understand the importance of a multi-faceted approach to increase stakeholder engagement.

What would you add to this list?


  1. I'd add, Make things personal but don't take things personally. Be personally committed to the agenda, business, initiative, but be able to recognize that set backs, criticisms and attacks are not attacks against you as an individual.

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  3. Effective leaders need be passionate and committed. It isn't a role selected for its vacation and perks. While there are challenges, it isn't a role leaders look to escape. I relate this to "fall in love" with your job. If you do not like it, work your way to another passion.

    Buffering is something I am high on as well, but I believe this relates well to the "no excuses" above. Be the bulldozer and clear the path for your rockstar employees so they are free to fulfill their passion. Similarly, a leader needs to buffer for himself, which is similar to knowing when to delegate. There are obviously some things that deserve a leader's attention and some things that do not. Todd Whitaker's Shifting the Monkey applies here.

    Leadership research will also speak of "with-it-ness" or "situation awareness." This relates to having your finger on the pulse of an organization, being visible and listening as a part of communicating.... This allows leaders to respond while obstacles or concerns are relatively small as opposed to falling into more critical modes. This may reflect on a leader's abilities to communicate, access and use of good data, build relationships, and get people on the bus << including giving life and pursuit to the vision!

    I am definitely a fan of the shared list. Thanks Eric!

  4. A leader is a guide. He takes a group of people and says, 'With you I can make us a success; I can show you the way.'