People will follow a leader with a heart faster than a leader with a title.
There are two types of authority awarded in leadership. The one that is granted to you by the title of your position and the one that you earn by showing people what you really believe in and value over an extended period of time. L.E.S.S. is a model to earn the trust needed to be the second type of leader. The one that is built through the building of relationships and credibility over time. A position and title may give you a start to becoming a leader, but position alone will never sustain leadership. You must build the authority needed to lead by how you behave and interact with people over time. The best leaders do not just have strategies to help others build success, they have a process, a system that they can rely on each and every day. For me, L.E.S.S. is that system. It is the center of how I believe we need to lead our schools and the people we serve.
We are often told the very center of something is the most essential part. It is the core. Like the inedible middle of an apple that contains the seeds that has the potential to grow future generations of the fruit, or your inner circle of core friends.The core is vital to life. If you research the word core, you find that in the late 14th century, the noun core came about from the Old French coeur, meaning “core of fruit” and more literally, “heart.”
The body cannot live without the heart. In anatomy, heart function is not entirely dependent on the brain. The heart can continue to beat even if a patient is brain dead. On the other hand, the the brain cannot survive if the heart fails to pump. The point — leadership cannot function on brain power alone. Leadership is built “heart-first.” School leaders need a heart for leadership along with a solid mind to make our schools function at the highest level. Having heart without competence creates an environment where we do things that are easy and make us happy, but in the long run we will find that they do not always make a difference. Having competence without heart usually leads to a harsh, results-only, driven environment where stress levels are high and burnout is possible. Neither of these will build sustainable change or success for those we lead. Leadership is heart before head. It is about caring about people first, and then pushing them to meet their own high expectations.
I have met plenty of people who are highly competent about the work they are doing, but highly ineffective at the work. Leaders are often hired because they are highly competent at their current work. Maybe they are a technology guru, or they are great at analyzing student data, or maybe they are phenomenal at working with difficult students and parents. The problem is, this competence does not always transfer to holding a leadership role. If a leader does not engage effectively, listen skillfully to others, and have a clear vision for success, then, they are not truly competent, are they? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the work we are engaging in as a school leader is not just about carrying the cognitive load of your school. It is an emotional labor that requires us to connect with other people in every moment of the work day. Not long ago, a leader could follow a simple formula — work hard, be willing to put in the long hours, make sound, safe, decisions, and build a school that revolved around compliance. That was challenging work, and many people tried to follow this strategy, but it was not the right work. The current school environment is much more complex. We live in a world of accountability, where we know so much more about the how and why of students learning, yet we often fail to make the needed changes to get there because we play it safe, keeping our school environment guarded, but never reaching the full potential. Unfortunately, this is not the school culture we need for our students to be successful when they leave our buildings. Our students are going to enter a world that is unstable, where they will hold jobs that do not currently exist, and they will need skills like collaboration, self-direction, critical thinking, creativity, and an emotional intelligence to navigate the ever-changing, complex reality of the new workplace.
Please do not misunderstand my prior statements, I am not saying that incorporating new technologies is not important, or that we should not use student data to lead us to more individualize instruction. What I am saying is that without the right culture and focus – these things do not matter. Leadership is so much more than a set of data analysis tools or strategies. If it were only about strategies then we could just say, leadership is easy, just do this… But, it is not easy. It is about people. People need a leader to love them; they need a leader to help equip them with the tools required for success; they need a leader to stand alongside them in service of others, and they need their leader to be healthy so he/she can fully invest in the emotional labor of leading a school.
Whew, I know, that is a huge load to carry, but it is the a leader’s responsibility to carry it with (and sometimes for) those we serve. If you do not want the responsibility, then that is fine. No one makes you take on these roles. But, if you do step into the role of school leadership, please be prepared to accept full responsibility even when it is not fair. Leadership is being responsible for something you do not control. The heart of a school comes from leadership. It is not about a title, it is about having heart for what you do. As a leader, you must show up each day ready to pump excitement, innovation, enthusiasm, trust, and love into your school. If the heart fails to pump, all else will fail as well. You are that heart for your classroom or school. It does not take more to become this heart; it takes focus on what really matters and putting those things above all else. Leadership is not about doing and giving more; it is about leading with L.E.S.S..
Until next time…keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!