Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Value of Leadership, Part I

It is not possible to underestimate the value of leadership. Real, actual leadership. This is as true in school districts and buildings as it is anywhere. "In fact, research has established that leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors as an influence on learning" (Educational Leadership, Apr 2013, p. 23). Forests have been decimated in the pursuit of the secret to leadership success.

A blurb on leadership at Psychology Today reads
Peter Drucker famously stated that "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, vision that allows them to set their sights on the "things" that truly merit attention. Not a bad skill set for the rest of us, either.
I've been thinking a lot about leadership in education, especially in K-12 education. I think it's true in any organization and in any business area that the higher one goes up the ladder, the easier it is for other people to think they can do a better job. Potshots from the ranks are not that unusual unless, I suppose, the person at the top really is a good leader.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of books and articles on the specific number of steps to be successful as a leader. When I have a whole bunch of time I don't know how else to use, I'm going to do a literature review of those resources and all the other literature reviews that have tried to narrow the field of success formulas. But first I want to share a bit of perspective based on this recent article titled "7 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently."

Thing 1: Relationships first. I remember being profoundly affected by a pastor who managed to focus on the one person to whom he was speaking and be genuinely engaged in that conversation. People loved him for that and it was one of his best strengths.

Thing 2: Meaning matters. People talk about giving back in meaningful ways. The cover article in the recent issue of Time magazine was about service, a concept applicable to everyone. Schools scrambled onto the service learning bandwagon for a while. The Peace Corps struck a powerful chord in people in the 60s as have organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers & Sisters, and hundreds of other local, national, and international organizations. Not only do leaders understand how their work fits into a broader context, but there are mechanisms in the work place to enable their employees to discover the same.

Thing 3: Humor. This is a balance thing. I can choose to be angry, depressed, and anxious or I can choose to see the brighter side. That's not be delusional or in denial, but it's choosing to use humor to smooth the edges and gain some perspective.

Thing 4: Strengths. This is another balance thing. I have certain strengths that I should maximize to do my job well. When I'm fortunate, I have colleagues whose strengths support mine and whom I can support with my own strengths. We need to be honest and self-aware of our strengths, skills, and talents, which means we also need to be honest and self-aware of our limitations.

Thing 5: Pessimism. The upshot is focus, "embrace the suck," and compartmentalize. I focus on that which is mine to manage and control; I acknowledge that things are going to go sideways sometimes and that's just reality; and I don't let bother in one area impede another.

Thing 6: Be grittier. Proceed with passion. Don't back down from challenges. Don't allow failure to define who one is. Don't quit.

Thing 7: Manage energy. This doesn't mean starting the day with some energy drink or taking a bump or two in the afternoon. It means knowing the ebb and flow of my body to know when to take a break and when to take advantage of that natural high performance state.

What's interesting to me about these 7 things is that none focus on the actions of the leader in leadership. All of them focus on the leader and the sorts of qualities and actions of the leader to be a leader. Which suggests that being a leader is, in fact, being a leader.

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