The start of the 2021-2022 school year is here. Hard to believe what all educators went through last year and now we are ready to tackle the challenges of another school year with new obstacles. Or, are we ready? It is important that leaders understand how to play the game as far as leadership journey as it is never ending. In this blog post we take a look at what aspects allow leaders to continually grow over time, not just within one school year or position. Leadership growth happens daily over a long time in many different areas as our challenges are continuous and changing. Yes, leaders recognize that they ultimately must help others grow and develop, but they must first grow themselves that then leads to organizational growth. Continual improvement as a leader combines reflecting on past experiences and mistakes, but then using that to learn so it can be applied moving forward to your professional and positional growth with a mindset focused on visionary and innovative practices.
How to play the game of leadership
Some fall into the trap of thinking once they get a certain position or title they have arrived. They believe that others will respect them for simply that role, their ideas and others will automatically do things they say to improve the school organization. There may also be instances where some leaders get focused on the wrong things that distract or take away from the important parts of leadership that previously allowed prior success to occur in the first place. So what are the components of the leadership journey that one can use to play the game so there is continual improvement for the school focused on the right things? These are big picture items that one must keep in front of you at all times and use as a guide to your decisions and incorporate with your core values as a leader.
- Vision focused on continual improvement
Most educators recognize culture is important, but it is the MOST important part of successful schools. Culture represents the cumulative effect of all the behaviors of the students/staff and parents. In other words, it is how the school operates. It is also one of the hardest areas to develop or enhance as it takes time and is a process. Any educator will have setbacks or tough moments but the culture will support one another and a positive culture will keep everyone “rowing the boat” in the same direction even in the most challenging times. Leaders must take responsibility for their building’s culture and lead by modeling patience, grace and flexibility. Culture is a part of the vision of leading others. Leaders must help their school community define and keep their vision at the center of their decisions. As society is rapidly changing, so is the rate of change for schools. This may lead to some schools changing their goals or work frequently until they find “what sticks.” Great schools know their purpose and remain consistent with their work – they simply focus on getting better within those areas over time. WIthin this work, they remain INTENTIONAL and have a laser like focus that starts with culture.
- Build trust and relationships with People
The purpose of schools is to help ALL students learn at high levels and develop key content learning, skills and dispositions. This occurs when leaders focus on supporting the people who work directly with the students – both the teachers and families. Great schools recognize the importance of engaging families and creating ways to get them into the building so they feel connected to the school, share ideas and concerns, support the work of the school and help drive a positive culture. Leaders also recognize the importance of supporting staff so there is Shared Leadership. A great principal can have a positive impact upon a school, but when the principal develops other leaders then there is a multiplier effect. The more leaders you have then the more ways your school moves forward and meets the needs of students who have diverse needs. It allows the school to function at a much higher level as more staff are “focused on becoming the best for the team, not the best on the team.” Building trust takes time but leaders can do this by leading with character (how they treat others) + competence (how well they lead others) and being consistent with their practices. This allows staff and families to trust the leader and help support the work so everyone is focused on the same purpose.
- Learn from other leaders who push you to get better
Educators who grow into impactful and great leaders recognize the importance of connecting with others. They recognize that they do not know it all – they are vulnerable and have a willingness to admit that they can learn from others. I read recently where John Maxwell shared “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. So as a leader, if you are not connecting to other like minded educators who are humble about their work but yet hungry to improve and passionate about learning then you have put a lid on your potential. When you connect to leaders who are doing it better, then it stretches your thinking and provides different perspectives which in turn challenges the status quo. No single person has it figured out. It is just not possible. As a result, the best way to learn nuggets of leadership and then apply to those you serve is to connect with others, listen, ask questions and see what can be applied to lead your organization. The medium or methods you use to connect to others may vary but remember that who you spend the majority of your time with will determine in many ways your rate of growth – so find ways to connect with those that will challenge your thinking, give different perspectives and accelerate your rate of growth. Be a learner, a listener and understand everyone has something of value to share. While most people fall back to average over time as they lose their purpose, some are fortunate to have Mentors and as a result, continual improvement is at the heart of their journey. This is important as mentors help drive leadership improvement.
- Be able to adapt to changing needs
The last year taught us many things and one of those was the importance of being able to adapt to changing circumstances. Some do this better than others. When a leader is able to adapt it allows the school and staff/families to have a sense of trust and “we got this” where the focus doesn’t waiver from what is best for kids. Impactful leaders enjoy change as they recognize that is how we improve. In fact, some leaders love the unknown and grow through changes as then it allows the organization to continually improve and focus on the future – not the past. Leaders create the structure and systems within their schools to allow for this pivot but they lead with:
- Humility and Grace
- Learn with others and admit you don’t know it all
- Lead with courage and vulnerability
Leadership isn’t easy and at many times there will be people unhappy with your decisions. Leading others requires that you put yourself on the line. The current society and COVID challenges impacts require leaders to continually adapt but yet provide consistency and sustainability for their organization. This is hard work and at times, we will make mistakes. But leaders understand the hard part of leading is what makes leadership and learning with others great. This mindset is what is needed to create excellence in schools. Along the way, leaders must incorporate the important aspects of listening, reflection and then action into their work. We must lead and model vulnerability in our actions. Leaders are able to adapt quickly, know the strengths of those you serve and empower them to help drive positive change within your organization. Leading others is a passion as it provides meaning and purpose in our life so the leadership journey is well worth the risk.
Educators must remember that creating positive change must be done with intentional efforts that transform the organization with a focus on the culture, learning and leading people. This occurs when a leader understands how to play the game of the leadership journey. Growing as a leader can only happen if you intentionally spend time looking at your mistakes, learning from experiences/others and spend time stretching yourself within your strength zone. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “How to Play the Game” as a leader within your journey. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org