5 Essential Skills for a Leader

I have enjoyed my growth and learning through the years as I have read many books, taken part in many twitter chats, voxer groups and discussed topics with fellow ed. Leaders.  An area that I personally have great interest in is “what are the essential skills of a school leader”.  During this time, I have narrowed the list to five key attributes that from my perspective allows leaders to be successful. These skills transcend across our country, from large urban districts, to suburban to rural areas. The skills would allow an administrator to find success in their 1st year as a leader or in their 20th year.  While the needs of a building may be different, these skills are adaptable and flexible enough to use in any setting for a leader to strive for excellence and develop its people.  From my perspective, here are the five essential skills for school leaders:


  • Relationships – This should always be the most important focus area of any leader.  Even if you are in your 11th year in the same building, you must always focus on relationships as that builds the foundations for everything else.  It is important to remember that to build relationships, the leader should:
    1. Listen more than they talk
    2. Model the type of behaviors they seek to create (positivity, kindness, student focused)
    3. Be authentic with others (be in the moment and make that person the most important person in the room when they talk to you)
    4. Get to know each staff member and what motivates them (what is their passions and strengths)
    5. It is important to have face to face communication as much as possible
    6. Get to know students, staff and parents by name
    7. Your behaviors and integrity are more important than any strategy


  • Communication – If Leaders succeed or fail in many ways is due to effective communication or lack of it. It is important that leaders communicate clearly the vision to staff, be proactive with communication and are consistent. The authenticity and how sincere the message is shared with parents often determines the success of communication.


  • Culture – Relationships are the foundation of a great culture. However, culture is also how people act and their behaviors towards others. Leaders set the tone for the culture and how a leader treats the staff is typically how the staff will treat students. While Leaders cannot control other people, we can control how we respond with our words, actions and emotions. We need to model positively, kindness and the mindset of “all in for kids”.


  • Visibility – This is probably the most important to staff and parents. Leaders need to be in the classroom to see the teaching/learning to understand how to support teachers and get to know the passions of its students. School events is a great opportunity to get to know parents and have authentic conversations with them and allow them to see you as someone who cares about their child and the school. The beginning of each day at car line or bus drop-off also presents another opportunity to greet students and start their day with energy and feeling supported at school.


  • Challenge the status quo – As leaders strive for excellence they also strive to be lifelong learners. This simply means they stay humble and hungry to always grow as a leader and think about what they can do for others to help create a better version of the school. Leaders must model their innovative thinking and be comfortable when teachers try new approaches and it does not work.  But providing that framework of “let’s try” and supporting teachers will allow the narrative to always focus on “how can we do this better for kids”.  Educators must also be “connected” learners, simply meaning learning from others in and outside your organization as that provides the spark for many innovative ideas!

As you strive to learn and stretch yourself as a leader, I would be curious on how you view these five essential skills.   Reach out to me with comments at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com










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A Husband, Father and Principal with a focus on learning, leading and connecting with others.

An educator for 25 years with 14 of those being a building administrator. I have found that the more I learn form others and their experiences it helps me grow and learn as well. I hope you join our journey as we create learning environments for students and staff that create future success.

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