As I progress in my journey and role as an educator, things have become more clear. This is even true during a pandemic and despite many new challenges this year, I have continued to evolve in my thinking around leadership. During my early morning workouts I listen to podcasts to help find time to intentionally learn around leadership topics. One of the recent podcasts was describing finding leaders is similar to the analogy like mining for gold in our history of our country. This resonated with me and left me thinking about this at a deeper level. The speaker mentioned that when you mine for gold you must search long, uncover lots of dirt and typically there is no gold but rocks/dirt. But if you search hard enough, look in the right spots then you may be fortunate enough to find gold. This helped me to process where I am at in my journey as I want to stay humble and hungry as a leader. I recognize I have lots of faults, but still I want to learn and grow into a more impactful leader and help others by influencing their thinking, developing their skills and giving them confidence to help influence their growth as a leader. As I was thinking about leadership and my journey, I think this applies in the following ways about developing leadership:
Finding a Mentor
I truly believe all educators go into their roles to be great and have a desire to help others. But along the way, life gets busy and in many cases, well intentioned educators become stagnant and stop growing. In large part, this is because they never found a Mentor. The Mentor is someone who can help coach, inspire, support and develop their skills. I have to admit, I am not sure if I have ever had a true mentor or someone that was willing to invest small amounts of time in myself. Fortunately, I have found a strong PLN that has been transformational and pushes my thinking. If you do have a mentor, it is important that you:
- Ask them for honest feedback
- Watch how they model leadership
- Reflect on How do they uplift and support others
- What do they do to continue to grow
- Ask what skills are your strengths and how can they be elevated
- Work with them so you can take true leadership opportunities
Being a Mentor
If you are in education long enough you will have the chance to be a mentor to someone new or someone just beginning a new role. In these instances, we each have an opportunity to choose – be their mentor or simply support them as a colleague. While both are important, there is a distinct difference. When you have the opportunity to be the mentor that means you are committing to intentionally spending some time with the other person, leaning into their conversations to learn who they are, develop trust and share that you want to help them succeed. It also means you must have honest conversations about what they do well and areas they can improve. Obviously, the other person must be at the point in their career where they are ready to have a mentor (see below) or otherwise your efforts will be lost.
Finding People who want to be leaders
In my role as an administrator, my focus in recent years has been foremost on “finding potential leaders so I can help them develop their strengths and create sustainable change for our school community.” I have learned the importance of the value of a strong team and recognize that despite my best efforts, our school will be much more impactful for kids if we are a stronger team of many leaders compared just to myself leading. My goal has been on developing and influencing others. I have had the pleasure to work with many wonderful people who care about kids and work hard and do have a positive impact. But that doesn’t mean they all have the desire to be leaders. So here are some things I look for in people that tell me if they have the innate abilities to develop as a leader. Very simply, I focus on Attitude not Aptitude but I ask myself are they:
- Gifted – Does someone have the skillset within them that allows them to connect with others easily, see the big picture, communicate effectively and do they influence others. If you want to know who your leaders are – when you have staff together and people can sit anywhere, ask yourself who do they sit by? This doesn’t always mean that person is a positive leader but that person does have influence; and influence is a critical component to leadership.
- Grounded – One of the most important traits of leadership that I see in many quality leaders is character. Someone’s character is a defining point that allows sustained success. So in my role with developing others, I see if someone has true character. In other words, do they care more about themselves or do they care about others. For example, if you look at someone’s professional social media are they always in every picture or are the pictures focused on others? This is a tipping point to telling you are they “a giver to others or a taker”.
- Growing – Leadership is a process not an event. It takes time and requires that someone is willing to give a little more and work a little harder. Many educators do lead at times, but only a few aspire to become level 4 or 5 leaders where others follow them because they develop and influence others. In my work, I do believe all educators do lead and can become leaders. I strive to provide opportunities for anyone to grow as a leader and provide them feedback, listen to their needs and support their work. That is important and all of my staff deserve that. However, I do focus much more of my energy and efforts on the top 20% as they are the ones who have committed to growing as a leader and this creates stronger teams with the concept of the multiplier effect. I intentionally sit down with these people and we discuss what they need to be challenged, empower them with opportunities to lead, discuss areas of growth and we do intentional reflection discussions. It is not perfect but we are spending intentional time on trying to help others grow into leaders.
Time is a limited resource and if you understand the importance of finding the right people it will help you over time in your work as a leader. Leadership is all about influence – nothing more and nothing less. I have reminded myself that I need to continue to look for my own mentor who can push me, serve a mentor to others and always be willing to help those that aspire to grow as leaders. A single person can make a significant difference. Everyone has similar opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo and are not willing to continually learn to develop as a leader. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org