I’ve learned a few things about being a leader during the last 3 weeks.
I think the first thing I liked was Gardner’s use of the word constituent instead of follower (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 18). As a budding leader I don’t want people to follow me around like lost puppies. I do want people to believe in me and and follow my lead, even as I learn and grow over time.
When we initially think of a leader for some reason our brain shoots towards the great and mighty leaders. As Murphy describes it, those with tremendous vision, knowledge, strength, initiative, courage, tenacity, power, and a take charge attitude. What we don’t think of is the “unheroic” side of leadership, the shared vision, asking questions, coping with weakness, listening, dependence on others, and letting go. (Jossey_Bass, 2007, pp. 52-53)
Leaders, at least good ones, need to fulfill both of these visions of leadership if they expect to lead our schools. I suppose in some idyllic world there exists a school where the students are happy to sit quietly in their seats while information is poured into their brains. Teachers follow scripts and thus don’t worry about creative lessons. Tests scores are all high. Discipline is not needed. the only need for a principal is to shuffle paper. However, in the real world this does not happen.
Kelley and Peterson describe the real world thus, “principals are also expected to work effectively in increasingly diverse, fragmented, and pluralistic communities with vocal stakeholders. (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 359)
An effective leader in a school needs to be able to communicate. All these teachers, and parents, and students, and higher level administrators, not to mention the community leaders, and custodians, and just about anyone else who walks through the door, all of these people need to share in building the school vision and then share in executing the school vision. To do so a leader must listen carefully to what each person is saying translate that into one coherent vision then rebroadcast it in a series of small fragmented conversations again and again and again until everyone hears, understands, and believes.
Robert Evans tells us that the the “Authentic Leader” has four action orientations ... foster change: “clarity and focus, participation without paralysis, recognition, and confrontation. “ (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 154)
An effective leader must have focus. the leader keeps the focus on the shared vision. When you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. (Quote from inspirational poster to start chapter on authentic leadership in Jossey-Bass Reader p. 5) While poop may roll downhill an effective leaders (emphasis on effective) takes responsibility for everything. When constituents bring problems to the leader, the effective leader shows how the finding the solution comes with focus on the shared vision. While the problem may not actually be solved, the person who has the problem is empowered to work a solution that is in keeping with the shared vision.
Thomas Sergiovanni quotes Larry Norwood, principal of Capital High School, Olympia, Washington as writing, My style is to delegate and empower: and my successes have been through other people. (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 75)
An effective leader empowers others. The days are long past when a person can grab the reins of a school and dictate everything that will happen if that day really ever existed. As Angelo Patri writes in the book A Schoolmaster of the Great City, As each day went by, cautiously I put the problem of school discipline before them and they responded by taking over much of the responsibility for it themselves. (p. 15). Leadership of a school in my experience and reading is more of a function of allowing smart, talented people to do what they do best than it is a of dictating duties.
I’ve written before on leadership in education on this very blog. Well more than once. Since reading Napoleon on Project Management by Jerry Manas I’ve realized that leadership is more about giving the people the power to fulfill your goals, but today I realize the goals aren’t mine. As leaders we build a shared vision with the constituents in our schools. We get input from the teachers, staff, students, parents, community and organize and refine it until we have a vision of the school, not a vision of what we think a school should be.
That’s the beginning. After building a vision comes the hard part, focus, trust, teamwork, consistency, and an institutionalization of the entire program so that it lives beyond just our tenure.
Inc, Jossey-Bass, & Fullan, Michael. (2007). The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership.
San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.
Patri, A. (1917) A Schoolmaster of the Great City New York, NY: MacMillian Co
Company, R.R., & Manas, Jerry. (2006). Napoleon on project management. Nashville, Tn:
Thomas Nelson Inc.