I had the opportunity to take part in mock interviews for aspiring administrators this past weekend. I enjoyed the time getting a chance to talk to, and support, those who are willing to take on leadership roles in our schools. As I reflected on my time in those interviews, there was one question that seemed to get the most inconsistent answer. That question, interestingly enough, was simply to define leadership. It is not to say that any of the answers given were wrong, but it was in this question that there was the most divergence in people’s responses.
While leadership can take many forms, and can be defined in many ways, one of my favorite ways to look at leadership is simply put — being responsible for something you do not control. As a building leader in a school, I am responsible for a plethora of things that happen in my building where I do not make the daily decisions that impact the outcome. In other words, I am in charge of 100+ teachers who make hundreds of decisions as to what is best for the students in front of them, and I am responsible for those teachers and those decisions. This requires that I am fully emotionally involved in the process, while being completely emotionally detached from the outcome.
So you might be asking that if in leadership the outcomes are not my job, what exactly is is? Here are three things that I believe are at the top of the most important to my job as a leader.
My job is to build a culture where people can excel. As a leader, I am responsible for establishing culture and there is nothing more important in a school than building the right culture. If the culture of my building is not where it needs to be for people to excel, it is my responsibility to get it there. I hold the responsibility to build a culture so strong it is not influenced by outside or negative sources. Culture starts with a clear purpose behind our work and clear beliefs about how we are going to accomplish that purpose. Those beliefs must be understood by all. If there are people in my school that do not understand what we believe in, it is because I have not sent the right message, or been clear enough in that message, to create a unity in beliefs.
My job is to equip people with skills to excel. After the culture is built, that culture will drive behavior. Now, it is my responsibility as a leader to ensure people have the skills needed to excel in this culture and meet the expectations established by this culture. If people do not have the needed skills, then it is my job to find a way to build these skills in people. It is my responsibility to provide people with opportunities to build skills. For some, once they have clear direction, my job is to get out of their way and let them push forward. While for others, they might need more direction and additional tools to get there. In either case, it is my responsibility to meet folks where they are and then help them move closer to the established beliefs of our school.
My job is to own my own behavior. I have to understand the hard truth that if I am not getting what I want out of my career, it is because I am not good enough, or have not developed the skills needed to excel in that area. It is my responsibility to build my own abilities as a leader and to not blame others for shortcomings or setbacks of which I should be in control. Ultimately, all I can control on a daily basis is how I act, how I respond, and how I treat others. I must realize that people always walk away with a feeling about how they were treated in every conversation. My behavior, positive or negative, has a great impact on others and has the ability to create a positive or negative ripple in my building. My behavior, and my actions, are my responsibility.
While this is not an all encompassing list of what is means to be a leader, these are three things that I believe are vital to leadership success. Great leaders make others around them better by providing the right environment, equipping people with the needed skills, and managing their actions to inspire those around them.
If you are struggling with your position or skills as a leader try shifting your focus to these three items. It is not a quick fix, it is not a strategy, but it will change how you lead and what you focus on as a leader.
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