Does great have to be the default?

The following has been cross-posted at the Will Deyamport’s blog.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Daquella manera

“Bosses ought to be judged by what they and their people get done and by how their followers feel along the way.” Robert I. Sutton, Good Boss, Bad Boss

Reflecting on the weekend about a presentation that Patrick Larkin and I did on Connected Principals and how we can start movements based on passion, and then reading Larry Fliegelman’s post on the Status Quo, I have thought a lot about leadership.  In my position as principal, I want to do my best. I understand that by doing my best, this will ultimately result in the people I serve doing great things.

When I first started in educational administration (often people refer to this as leadership, but there are SO many people in education that are leaders that are not principals, and unfortunately, many believe the opposite could hold true as well), I found that “my work” always came secondary to the work that impacted others in the building.  I always made sure that they had everything they needed to be successful.  This often caused me to fall behind in some personal areas, but I knew that I would be able to catch up at another time.  Holding back my staff was never something that I wanted to do.

This want for “being great” in an administrative position does not mean you have to be arrogant, although you will need confidence.  Leaders that inspire greatness are often very humble and quiet (anyone heard of Ghandi?), yet always know their vision.

If you are not in your leadership role to create greatness, the concern would then be that you are simply in it to be “the boss”.  When you are dealing with the lives and careers of others, it is imperative that you provide them with opportunities to do amazing things.

“People in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what their followers need, do, and say.” Robert I. Sutton, Good Boss, Bad Boss

Although I know that I can continuously grow in many areas, here are some things to consider if we want those around us to be great.

  1. Listen. We have to know the wants and needs of the people that we serve.  It is essential that we are always listening and hearing what people in our organization are saying.  One saying that I have in my own school is, “I don’t want my ideas; I want the best ideas.  It doesn’t matter where they come from.”  If we are listening, we are more likely to find or together create these “best ideas”.
  2. Say yes WAY MORE than you say no. In a time where budgets are continuously cut, those that manage buildings are found in situations where they have to really tighten up.  Leaders, however, find ways to provide these opportunities.  If the ideas that are presented are beneficial to your students and your organization, you should find a way to bring ideas to fruition. There are times when I have to say no to things, but those are rare occasions.  Also think of times when staff come to you and want to try new things.  If they are willing to put in the time, and their ideas won’t harm anyone, say yes.  We want to not only encourage innovation in our schools, we want to create a culture of it.  If you are giving your staff opportunities to be innovative, you will see an amazing trickle-down effect to your students.
  3. Connect people. When I was a kid, and also when I first started teaching, the principal seemed like the person who knew everything.  Now being in that position, I know for a fact that is not true.  What I do need to know, however, is where my experts are, and to be able to connect my staff to them.  Find these people that will help out others on your staff and connect them.  Don’t limit the connections within your building, either.  If you are on any social networking sites, you will find so many experts in different areas that the amount of powerful connections you can make will astound you.  The principal needs to be a connector and has ample opportunities to be so.
  4. Get to know those you serve. This ties in with the point above.  First of all, we need to find the strengths of those in our organization and empower them to use these.  If you tap into the passion of people and help them find purpose within your school, your entire organization will benefit.  Also, one “leadership style” is not enough.  If you really know those you work with, you will find that different things will work with different people.  I guess we could put this in the category of “differentiated leadership”.
  5. Realize that you are surrounded by leaders; empower them. You are not the only leader in the building, but if you believe you are, then you just might not be a leader.  Find ways to have others take on initiatives in the school based upon their strengths.  The more leaders we have, the better we all do. “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Tom Peters

There are many aspects of leadership that are not listed above (please feel free to add in the comments).  As leaders, we need to ensure that we have a clear vision and ensure that we are all on the same path.  Once that is clear, you need to create continuous opportunities for everyone in your school to achieve their best.

“Level 5 leaders are differentiated from other levels of leaders in that they have a wonderful blend of personal humility combined with extraordinary professional will. Understand that they are very ambitious; but their ambition, first and foremost, is for the company’s success. They realize that the most important step they must make to become a Level 5 leader is to subjugate their ego to the company’s performance. When asked for interviews, these leaders will agree only if it’s about the company and not about them.” Jim Collins, From Good to Great

So to revisit the question that titles this post, “does great have to be the default?”  In my opinion, you may not crave that, but if you are in a position of leadership, this is something that needs to happen.  As school administrators, to do our best, we need to ensure that everyone else has opportunities to do their best.  We really don’t have much of a choice.  Our schools and students depend upon it.

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