What Defines a Leader

person on a bridge near a lake
Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com


Great schools are developed due to its people, but behind every great school there is a great leader. Leadership is a trait that is the topic of many books, blogs, and podcasts and more. What are the traits that allow some individuals to thrive and find success in a role while others get burned out, have little success and then leave the position.  In this blog, we identify the characteristics that puts individuals in position to have sustained success and strive for excellence. I recognize that all educators want to do “what is best for kids,” but that impact often lies within the ability of the leader to influence and support the adults within the system.

What Defines a Leader


Many educators strive for years to get to leadership positions. Once they get there, they ask themselves “now what”?  Experienced leaders recognize that having a title means little; rather it is about creating the conditions for success for others. This takes humility. As C.S. Lewis shares, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Leaders recognize the best way to move an organization forward towards excellence is by maximizing the talents of others.  This means that leaders must put the thoughts of others at the forefront and help others dream for themselves.  In essence, “it’s not about you” is an important quality leaders understand about their role as the focus must be on others.


Challenging the status quo is an important skill that leaders must possess. If we are afraid to be wrong, we will never come up with anything new or different. Leaders must constantly challenge themselves; otherwise, they will never realize what they can become.  Leaders must get used to feeling uncomfortable as they push boundaries and think outside the box on how to support and develop others.  They have “strength” as that allows them to overcome the things that they once thought they could not achieve. Leaders have deep sense of persistence, passion and purpose to be the change for others. They recognize that in order to find success for others it will take change, and that change is a result of innovative practices.

Clear Vision and Focus

Anyone can try to make change but a key common component to successful schools is that they have a clear vision and focus. This remains true despite the many fads and ideas that come and go in education.  Leaders clearly articulate the type of culture and environment they strive to create as they adapt to situations, work with others to ignite their passions, and maximize talents of others to attain a shared vision. A phrase that resonates with me from my research is “Organizations are not limited by their opportunity or conditions, but rather they are limited by their leader who does not have a clear vision for the school.”  Leaders set the path and then must continually align all work towards that purpose.

Creating right conditions

Once leaders recognize it is about others then they recognize how to develop others. It is all about the people and starts with developing the trust among staff. Trust is developed by how you as the leader act (character) and how you perform your role (competence). People will follow the leader before they follow the vision. It all comes back to do the people believe in the leader and have relationship with him/her.  Leaders must build relationships, support others in their work, celebrate their successes and times when they failed too.  Leaders develop the culture that allows others to strive for greatness as a desire to do their best for kids.  As Simon Sinek shares, “When we tell people to do their job, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.”  Recently, I heard a podcast about leadership that reminded me of a lesson I learned at a young age – “you cannot make anyone change; people can only change themselves. What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.”  The conditions include making relationships a priority, listening to others, developing trust and then working alongside your staff as they strive for excellence.


In many cases, leaders recognize where they want their school to go, but get stuck trying to get others to get started.  The most effective way to get others to take the first step of change is by how they see their leaders take action.  The simple act of a leader leading by example is often the tipping point to whether or not change can happen.  Great leaders do not tell others what to do, but rather they show how it is done.  Leaders must recognize that change is a slow process….so they must “go slow to go fast” and one of the best places to start is be modeling the desired change.  Leaders must be patient yet persistent in regards to change and modeling will always be a key component of this change.

Servant heart

Humility is an essential characteristic of a leader.  If you expand that to a broader sense, it leads to servant leadership.  Impactful leaders recognize they must:

  • Give more than you get in return
  • Care more about others than they care about you
  • Be kind to people who have been cruel to you

The quote by Simon Sinek sums up servant leadership when he says “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge.”

Support people, care about them and push them to get better. The success of a leader depends upon developing the talents and success of others.

Lifelong learner

Leaders recognize the importance of constantly learning latest research so they can grow and adapt to change. They also recognize the best competition they have is against themselves to become better. Therefore, they continually self-reflect, ask the right questions of others to get data and use that as means to adjust and strive for improvement.  The secret of success of a leader is found within their daily routine. Leaders continually learn new skills while remembering the core beliefs that drive their passion to support others.


I look forward to hearing from you regarding your view of what defines a leader.  Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com









Published by

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s