Over the last decade, I have spent a great deal of time researching what makes a leader tick. There are great leaders - terrible leaders - born leaders - self created and proclaimed leaders. I have come to know that while everyone has the potential to be a leader, most never take up the mantle. They are content to let others take the risk and do the work. This even applies to some who are in leadership positions, meaning they have the right credentials, interviewed well enough to convince the panel they deserve the job but are actually leading anyone anywhere but to the status quo.
Several days ago, I read a post by Michael Hyatt, 12 ways to know if you are a leader. Below I present that list and my "two cents".
Here are twelve ways to know if you are a leader:
- You long to make a difference - many of the so-called leaders I have worked with proclaim to want to make a sincere difference in the lives of students but there isn't any depth behind the words. You know you are a leader if you are awaken in the middle of the night because you can't stop thinking about how to make life better at work (and you enjoy the anxiety associated with it)
- You’re discontent and dissatisfied with the status quo - you never find yourself thinking "things are pretty good, why is there such a rush to change" nor do you ever think "we already tried that and this too shall pass" or worse yet "we do it this way because we have always done it this way"
- You’re not waiting on a bigger staff or more resources to accomplish your vision - if I had a dime for every time one of my leaders said "if you want this accomplished I will need additional staff members in my department and/or a bigger budget" I would be a very wealthy man. The truth is, we don't need more we need to improve the systems and processes already in place.
- Your dreams are so big they seem impossible - when you talk about what you plan on doing people look at you like you grew a third eyeball in the middle of your forehead.
- You acknowledge what is but inevitably ask, “What could be?” - I strongly believe great leaders are not deaf to the past and embrace those traditions or processes that are working but always have an their eye on how they can improve upon them. You have likely heard the saying "that is change for change sake" meaning some leader is trying some new idea just so they can say how much they have done. I feel that type of change is as weak as holding onto the status quo - instead we must merge these two ideals to forge forward.
- You realize that you don’t have to be in charge to have significant influence - as the chief education officer (aka superintendent) I have learned, the hard way, that it is better to ask the right questions while enabling others to take the charge rather than standing out in front of the charge. The best leaders have followers who often ask, "why do we even have him/her around? we did this ourselves".
- You refuse to blame others for your circumstances and take responsibility for finding solutions - it is easy to fall into a pattern of reducing your failures or shortcomings to an excuse. In education, we often want to use the students' home life status or parents as the reason we can't succeed. An effective school leader acknowledges the reality but believes he/she controls the outcomes.
- You foster unity by bringing people together and encouraging dialogue - great leaders find a way to get everyone to focus on the process not the personalities of those they work with. I have found that by keeping our focus on student achievement much of the petty nonsense that can interfere (such as personal conflicts among co-workers) dissipates.
- You are quick to say, “I messed up. Here’s what I am going to do to fix the problem I created.” - great leaders are not worried about admitting failure in front of those they lead. Instead, they believe that by showing their vulnerability it only strengthens the bond of those who follow them. I have been told on more than one occasion, usually by an 'old-school' veteran superintendent, you should not speak of yourself in such a self deprecating manner your staff will think you are weak. I could not disagree more - true power comes when the people who follow you know your shortcomings but admire you anyway.
- You value relationships more than tasks - ultimately, we must be willing to develop deep relationships with those we lead and place value on that over tasks. Example, if you know one of your staff members has a sick child at home (but on every other occasion has been a great contributor) we must be willing to be flexible, allow them to leave early - so that when the time comes to get a job done in the future they will be willing to stay late because they know you value them. (one important emphasis here is that the employee is otherwise a great contributor and not someone who constantly has "issues" at home to deal with)
- You walk your talk—not perfectly but sincerely and intentionally - Kouzes and Posner talk about "model the way" and all great leaders support their words with actions. I like Wyatt's words here "not perfectly but sincerely and with intention"
- You are a learner. You read, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, and ask other leaders lots of questions - since you took the time to read my post, you are likely well on your way to being a great leader. We must be willing to humble ourselves to others, I have learned as much from my 3 year old daughter and 6 year old son as I have from some of my doctoral courses - if you open your minds and believe learning can come from the strangest places you will be surprised with the results.
If you answered yes to these questions - You may be a leader—or well on your way to becoming one. Leadership is not about experience, education, or talent. It’s about the choosing to lead. That’s where it begins. If you could not answer yes to all that is ok too, being honest with oneself is the first step in transcending into the 'ideal self' or the leader we want to be.
I wish you much success, and remember 'The road to excellence is always under construction!