In the past years I had many opportunities to listen, learn and develop through my interactions with other like minded educators. These are educators who are humble as a leader as their focus is on those they serve but they are also hungry to grow with their skills as a leader and increase their level of influence. This past year, we all embraced the necessity for even more sharing and support of leaders across our country as we all navigated through the pandemic. As we now head into summer, I reflect upon the many educators I have had the pleasure to get to know through their stories, challenges and hurdles they have encountered along their leadership journey. In any role, there are challenges but the higher you go in leadership the greater the obstacles to success. I have learned that there are Barriers to Excellence or a lid to someone’s growth in any organization. The key as a leader is do you recognize these barriers and find solutions or do you allow the situation to control you and your growth process to excellence. Below are the Barriers to Excellence that any leader will encounter at various points in their leadership journey and for each barrier we listed key strategies to use to counteract these potential impacts so leaders can be their personal best.
Barriers to Excellence
- Lack of consistent and clear communication
- Lack of Trust
- Inability to adapt
- Lack of Visibility
- Lack of Action Orientation
Here are the same barriers with the strategies to use to overcome the challenge and strive for personal excellence.
- Lack of consistent and clear communication
Strategies to use to implement effective communication
Effective leaders articulate their vision with clarity and emotionally connect with their audience. When they communicate, they are concise, use simple language and get feedback from stakeholders to make informed decisions by listening to all perspectives. When planning to communicate a vision for their school or organization, to create effective communication a leader should ask themselves the following questions that can be embedded in their messaging:
- What do I want others to see in our organization (do I give them an example)?
- What do I want others to know (do I communicate how everyone contributes to our progress)?
- What do I want others to feel about our work (how can I empower them)?
- What do I want them to do (do I provide action steps)?
This type of information shared with others allows the communication to feel more like a conversation rather than a directive and inspires others to see the leader’s purpose and vision for improvement.
- Lack of trust
Strategies to use to develop Trust
It is a challenge to develop trust as a leader as you are the one holding others accountable for levels of progress or performance. For schools, the leader is asking educators to make change or progress during the most challenging times. This is where trust is even more critical, as it allows everyone to believe in your purpose and guidance for the school community as they see you as a competent leader and an effective one. As John Maxwell points out, “Most important is that people don’t need a motto but rather a model to see. The more credible you are the more confidence people have in you and then you have more influence.”
Trust is a big concept with a variety of potential topics but when you break it down it comes back to the character of the leader. Do you lead with humility, vulnerability and genuine concern for others? Character is what distinguishes great leaders from others. Modeling the virtues and matching it to your words speaks volumes to people. Leaders can be demanding without being demeaning as you can model and lead with kindness, positivity and compassion while leading the way with high work standards. Trust endures in an organization if the leaders are consistent with their focus, reliable with their efforts and actions and expect the same from themselves as they do of others.
- Inability to adjust
Strategies so you can adapt
We are in an ever changing world that is rapidly evolving due to the impact of technology, job demands, societal impacts, expectations of schools for students and the various mandates placed on schools from outside forces. This requires that leaders not only understand all the impacts but most importantly can create their school or organization with the structures and systems that allow everyone to be nimble and adjust to growing changes while keeping the purpose or “North Star” at the center focus of the work. This can be done if leaders are sensitive to the needs of others and see current problems as opportunities. When leaders involve others in the decision making process it allows new ideas to emerge, best practices shared and challenges the status quo while keeping the mission/vision of the school community at the center of all decisions. Leaders are measured by their capacity to stimulate change to meet the needs of others, shape the change and nurture the process
- Lack of visibility
Strategies for visibility
Even when the best leaders deliver a powerful message that connects to staff and the community, eventually everyone will be looking to the leader to see if they are also living that same expectation. In other words, do the actions of the leader match their words? While most leaders have every intention of being visible to help support the work, many get caught up in endless meetings that are inefficient or the leaders forget how to create change is not by setting another agenda but instead being in the trenches with the staff working with students. This allows the leader to see the barriers, remove those issues and help inspire the staff to bring their best every day. As Todd Whitaker would say, “leaders lead lead with feet, not from their seat.” It is important that a leader’s calendar has time set aside so they can be present with those that do the real work; in schools that means getting into buildings and listening to staff and administrators and getting to know the students that we are all here to serve. When someone is visible it also helps to get authentic examples of the work and get feedback upon the process you have put in place. Leaders must remember it’s not about being liked but rather it is important to be respected. Leaders must ask for feedback so others are involved and feel like they are part of the work. When you are visible that respect will be formed as staff know you are placing an importance upon their work and they will see/feel your support.
- Lack of action orientation
Strategies to create action
I have seen some outstanding stories and messages delivered by leaders. Everyone enjoyed their sharing. But yet, over time, there were not actionable steps or progress made and everyone was content to continue doing what they had been doing previously. Real leaders create positive change and that only happens if there is action. Yes, leaders should instill hope in others but they must also provide clarity and focus to the work so there are actionable steps for everyone to implement. People will follow a leader first then the plan, so leaders must always focus on connecting with others and by showing your passion it creates an emotional connection. But leaders also use effective communication to show and lead the work. Leaders inspire others to act by having a shared vision and intentionality to the work. Great leaders understand that when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go – there is true importance of timing for when leaders must act. Leaders accept responsibility for their decisions and celebrate small wins with others but own poor results. It is also important that leaders go first and model the desire to improve and it starts with their daily habits. This demonstrates competence and instills ownership so accountability measures can be developed within their system so results can be reviewed, data analyzed and next steps determined.
Strategies to be connected
Sometimes despite great efforts to improve, leaders when isolated develop blindspots to their thinking and their progress. In fact, they may develop an ego that “I know best” when in reality, they haven’t applied their thinking to a real situation to determine if their ideas truly are successful. We are “better together” is so true as it allows you to focus on others before self; this increases your influence as a leader when you support and develop others. Recently, I read a post by author Danny Bauer that shared “in 2020 the Learning Policy Institute and NAESP survey 407 school principals and found that:
- Only 23% of principals had access to a mentor or coach in the past 2 years.
- Only 10% of principals who served in high poverty schools had access to a mentor or coach.
If so few leaders are connected where they learn and grow with others, that means most are isolated and over time will become stagnant, have a small frame of reference and will be limited in their growth. Quite frankly, our students and staff deserve the very best so organizations must find ways for leaders to be connected and not rely upon the individual person striving to find connections on their own time and money. There are many important reasons why having connections are important for growing leaders:
- It allows you to see different perspectives and seek new solutions to your challenges.
- It further develops your character as you get comfortable with being authentic, leading with vulnerability and admitting that you have still more to learn. It increases your capacity as a leader.
- Staying connected also allows you to have accountability partners that will help hold you to a standard of excellence, that while done individually, can be done much more effectively together.
- The regular interactions with others is where transformation and growth occurs as it increases your self awareness, self management, social awareness and ability to manage your relationships.
- It instills the hunger to grow, passion for learning and recognition that our influence is most when we develop and help develop other leaders.
Educators must remember that creating positive change must be done with intentional efforts that focus on the culture within the organization. This starts with a leader removing the barriers to excellence. This learning can only happen if you intentionally remove the barriers to your growth as a leader which will provide greater focus to the work moving forward. 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 “Barriers to Excellence” as a leader. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org