Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eight Leadership Essentials

The beginning of the school year always renews my focus on how to improve my leadership skills.  Each year I critically analyze ways I can improve as well as what I feel I am doing well.  To my mind, we all have the capacity to lead.  It is through leadership that we  become catalysts for positive change. Once sustainable change takes hold, we will see the fruits of our labor in the form of transformed teaching and learning practices amongst learners and in ourselves. This cannot happen without effective leadership.

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In my own experiences and those of the individuals with whom I have connected through social media, I have witnessed patterns of behavior that, in my mind, capture effective leadership.  Leadership is a combination of art, science, and human nature. For some, it is an innate process; for others, it evolves and is refined over time.  We all have the ability to lead, although many choose not to lead.  There is also no perfect way to lead, as leadership strategies and practices need to adapt to the various dynamic environments in which leaders find themselves.

Schools need individuals to establish a collective vision and put it into action to improve professional practice, whether that leadership comes from administrators or teachers or a combination of both. Schools cannot be successful if this does not happen, and the success of our students depends on how well leaders guide the majority to embrace meaningful change. Below are ten essential elements of leadership that I feel can effect change.

  1. Modeling: In my opinion, the best leaders model their expectations for their employees and peers.  The best leaders not only talk the talk, but they also walk the walk.  Don't ask your employees or colleagues do something that you are not prepared to do.  Better yet, show them what the practice can and should look like in action.
  2. Not looking for buy-in: Effective leaders should not have to “sell” their employees and colleagues on a better way of doing things.  Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful force we have to initiate and sustain change.  Think about how you can get people to embrace a new idea, strategy, or initiative.  If you do this, the chances are you will have real results.  Start out by simply removing the words "buy-in" from your vocabulary.
  3. Providing support:  Support comes in many forms – financial, time, and professional learning opportunities.  The lack of any (or all) of these should never be an excuse to not move forward.  Support begins with adopting a “no-excuse” attitude and the resilience to always seek out solutions to the many problems that arise.  Support should also be differentiated.  As we have come to know with our students, a one-size-fits-all approach never works.
  4. Learning from failure: Everyone fails.  That is life.  The key point, however, is that failure is one of the greatest learning tools we have.  We don’t like it, but it should be embraced.  If leaders are afraid to fail, then nothing will ever change.  Leadership is all about risks and rewards.  With every risk there is the potential for failure looming around the corner.  Learning from our experiences—including our failures—empowers leaders to be fearless change agents. Admitting when we have failed actually inspires others.
  5. Transparency: Leaders’ decisions and actions are not challenged as much if those leaders are transparent. Effective leaders use transparency to assist with the embracement of change.  This is accomplished through a combination of communication, shared decision-making, consensus, debate, and social media.  In the end, all stakeholders should know why and how a leader made a particular decision and how that decision impacts the system. Transparent leaders to not micromanage, give credit to others when initiatives succeed, and take the blame things fail.
  6. Flexibility: Stubbornness and rigidity are clear indicators of a top-down approach to leadership. This almost always builds resentment and animosity towards change.  Leaders who are flexible listen to other points of view, bend when necessary, and are not afraid to change course if things are not going well.
  7. Resilience: Leadership is fraught with challenges on a daily basis.  There will always be people second-guessing, undermining, and ignoring decisions that are made.  Effective leadership requires something between having empathy and having a thick skin.  This results in resilience. Without resilience, one’s ability to lead effectively will be severely diminished.
  8. Never passing the buck: If you are—or want to be—a leader, you must always remember that there is no passing the buck.  When final decisions have to be made, they must be made with confidence, clarity, and decisiveness. 
The image below provides a nice summary of many leadership essentials.

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Obviously the image above and my list are not an exhaustive list, but rather a reflection based on experience and observation. What do you think are the essential principles of effective leadership that might fall outside of the list that I have provided?


  1. More than words. They way people see you and your ability to control what they see. Leaders have to see themselves out of their bodies...control their expressions, their movements, their body language, their smile, their frown. These are as memorable as your words.

  2. Very informative post. Keep up the good work. I would really look forward to your other posts
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