As we near the midpoint of this 2021-2022 school year, I have been reminded by just how challenging and unpredictable this year has been. This leads to many people asking questions to school leaders about why this year is hard yet also expecting more from students/staff than ever before despite unprecedented shortages of staff, hardships and lack of resources. Everyone wants what is best for schools but often few understand the challenges of leading staff during these challenging times so that the educators can be their best for students to support their academic learning, connections and SEL growth. These challenges help me to remind myself that we are leading in times that have never been seen before but leadership is what makes the difference. As I reflect upon the work of this school year, the following leadership traits are helpful if leaders apply to their work and the skills leaders need to use with others.
The following traits are essential for leaders to use within their role during times of complex change, unpredictable changes and external negativity.
Humility and Grace – We must be humble and not put ourselves at the center of the thinking but rather focus on those we serve. Ask ourselves for others what their needs are, what support they will ask for and how we can connect with each other. As John Maxwell has shared, the definition of humility is “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. At the same time, it is important to give yourself grace as you will not have all the answers. The key is not having all the answers but developing the right questions that will develop solutions.
Be Flexible and adaptable – While it is important to prepare to lead, we must be ready for changes and when it happens, then embrace it. Our mindset of how we handle adversity is critical to support and lead others as they will look to you for guidance. Adaptability is one of the most essential skills for our times and leaders must model this for others. To be adaptable, keep your core values or principles in mind and model the way for others. When we connect with others and lead with our core then others will trust our actions. This will allow the pivot to be effective if significant adaptations must occur.
Connect with others and have conversations – No single person has this figured out. It is just not possible. As a result, an important part of leadership in uncertain times is to connect with others, listen and ask questions. Learn from others and determine what can be applied to lead your organization. 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. Great leaders are learners first and always.
Importance of Reflection and Action – When you think of great leaders there are a few common traits they share. One of these is the importance they place on reflection. They use this to learn from their experiences, understand mistakes and adjust for greater growth. However, reflecting alone will not move the needle. Most important part is then putting that learning from the reflection into practice by action. Hope doesn’t create change, action does. Leaders understand the importance of innovation or trying something new to create better results and they are willing to take that risk.
Leadership Skills to use within your role with others
The following skills embedded within your work with others will allow others to be valued, empowered, connected and feel the sense of purpose to drive continual change.
- Relationships – This should always be the most important focus area of any leader as the quality of your relationships will determine your level of influence and impact. Helpful reminders to use, especially during unprecedented times:
- Model the type of behaviors you seek to create in your school organization.
- Be authentic with others .
- Maximize your staff by playing to their strengths and empowering them to lead in those areas.
- Use face to face communication as much as possible.
- 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 often determines the success of communication.
- Build 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”. We must be the “thermostat” and set the tone and climate within our organization.
- 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 are 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 – This is very difficult as leaders have so much on their plate then how do they find time to improve themselves and their organization? It comes back to your daily discipline and being a learner first. This simply means to 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! To drive continual change, leaders must be aware of not asking too much of staff so that they don’t feel overwhelmed while applying enough tension or need for change so there is a continual push to get better. This balance for a leader is what I like to refer to as “push n pull” as sometimes we must allow the rate educator improvement to be their empowerment and at other times help initiate or pull the improvement.
True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to think about how they can grow from the items mentioned above and how that will put your school organization in a position of success. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. Leading in unprecedented times we must be willing to let go of what we have done to pursue an unknown better. Growing as a leader can only happen if you intentionally spend time looking at your mistakes, learning from experiences/others and then adjusting to your work. We owe this to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand your role and “Leading in unprecedented times” and what will give you the greatest impact. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org