Leadership is a constant but is most commonly recognized by others during change processes or big events. Leadership occurs daily in the simplest moments. Leaders are always “on” as they must respond to staff, situations and the community. As a leader, you are always putting yourself on the line where others may judge you and challenge your actions and decisions. The challenge of leadership is that you can build trust and help empower others to make change, or if your actions and decisions are not matching the vision, then you can lose trust and credibility. Leading is hard, really hard but that is also what makes it special. Leadership growth happens daily over a long time in many different areas as our challenges are continuous and changing. In this blog post we look at the dangers of leadership and what you can do to avoid these blindspots so you can lead with purpose, authenticity and unapologetic passion to make positive change.
The Dangers of leading others and solutions for each challenge
- The change process
Leading schools means there are times we must embark upon change in an effort to strive for improvement. When this occurs, the process requires others to change their attitudes, their values or behaviors. The deeper the change then the greater the amount of new learning and resistance that will come. As leaders drive the change process they do put themselves in a position where they will face dangers. These dangers include where others try to marginalize you, divert your work, attack your character or try to provide special appeals that cause you to lose focus in your work.
As a leader you lead or are involved in the work. But at times, you must step back, observe the process and then get back in the middle of the work to make necessary adjustments. Here are some helpful strategies to safeguard against common leadership traps including:
- You must identify what type of challenge you are facing. Is it a challenge that requires readjusting plans or a much harder one where people function within the team is dysfunctional and must be addressed and fixed.
- Find ways to measure the progress along the way so adjustments can be made if necessary.
- Listen to the people and their concerns.
- Read the behaviors of your superiors to determine if they still support your work.
Leaders must have a vision and a plan, but you cannot script from moment to moment what happens. We must adapt to the circumstances. I think this past year and a half has provided everyone with an example of this situation. However, leaders can navigate through these hurdles by using your credibility, leading with character and modeling competence.
- Leading in isolation
Typically in a district there is 1 Superintendent and within a building there is 1 principal. The way we structure our systems almost puts oneself in a position where you are isolated. If you lead in isolation, you are putting yourself in a situation where you are not aware of your own blindspots. This can lead to uncertainty from others, inaccurate information or miscommunication.
There is importance in finding accountability partners as they can provide protection and help create alliances that support your work. When you work with others, it is important we model the calm, visionary approach and intentional purpose to our work. We do this by:
- Accepting responsibility for your part in the mess.
- Acknowledge to others that during a change process there will be some loss of what we have known in the pursuit of a new and unknown better.
- Model the calming and positive behavior so others will follow you because they trust you as you model competence in your actions and character in your decisions.
- Accept that there will be some individuals who won’t join the cause but together we will stay united in pursuit of a new better.
- Empowering others but they lead in a different way
There has been much research shared about the importance of empowering others. But what happens when they lead in a way that you disagree with or take away from the purpose of the work. Despite your best efforts to help groom others for this purpose, we must provide them the opportunity to lead as not only is shared leadership the best way to improve an organization but it also helps others to grow.
- Create a trust with those you work with so you can help tackle the challenges together.
- Be a thermostat and control the temperature of the process by applying tension, and at times reducing the tension, in response to what your staff needs. This means in many ways you can lead “from the side” and apply or reduce the tension appropriately by adjusting timelines or expectations.
- Pace the work so it is consistent without too many interruptions. Also provide points of feedback with those that are leading so it is natural and the work can be adapted without damaging the overall plan.
- If you have trust with the individuals, don’t hesitate to sit down and have a real conversation. Remember that as you grow in your leadership your desire to lead must be greater than your desire to be liked. Leaders must have honest conversations and that may mean sharing difficult news with a colleague.
- The Hurdles of change process takes the purpose away
Leading others and the change process has constant interruptions and new challenges. You cannot predict these as COVID, Budget implications, new societal trends, and all change the work and scope of the process. No one can predict these unannounced challenges, but the key is how we respond.
- Leaders must be steady in the change process and keep people focused. At times this will involve taking the heat but the leader must help others keep the focus of the work at the heart of the decisions. This can be achieved by sharing perspectives and stories to help people remember their purpose.
- Leaders can help everyone know the importance of how we must find a balance in our lives. We must assess the current reality, engage those in our working environment and we must pay attention to ourselves so we have a good balance so we can give our best to others.
In the past several years, the school I serve has adopted a new bell schedule, developed a new mission statement, gone to a 1:1 student device rollout, switched to a student centered approach that moves us away from traditional practices and now we are renewing our work with PLC’s and formative assessments. In addition, we have had to learn how to deal and work with COVID and its impacts. We have definitely been working through the change process. This concept of understanding the dangers of leadership has allowed me to maintain a balance, importance of getting perspective from others to avoid blindspots or negative pushback. Leadership is hard work, almost to the point currently where very few people will be able to have sustained leadership work over many years due to the many negative impacts. Leadership is all about influencing the staff you work with while continually trying to improve. This requires change and in our current reality, the change is accelerating.
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 the dangers 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 “Dangers of Leadership” as a leader within your journey. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org