With every turn of the page or scroll through a Reader feed, someone, somewhere, is giving advice on what leaders ought to be. Consider this recent post from passionate teacher Megan Allen who describes for us the qualities she feels “amazing” administrators possess. Or Erin Paytner’s latest post, 29 Things I’ve Learned as an Administrator…So far… I found many of those lessons to ring true for me, now in my fourth year as principal, as did Jeff Delp’s post regarding productivity, priorities, and the challenges school leaders face.
So the articles, blog posts, and books on leadership will keep on coming, because the role of leadership is ever-evolving and increasingly complex with each passing day. (And with each passing mandate.) I enjoy reading the work of leaders in fields outside of education, too. While not every lesson can be translated to the work we do with students, many can, and should, be considered. In a recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine, a piece entitled “The masters” by Christopher Hann highlights the successes of leaders who’ve managed to stay at the head of their games, and the philosophies they live by to do so.
Consider Mark Leslie, the CEO of Veritas. One of his top priorities is transparency - making sure that everyone in the organization knows as much information as he does, to squash secrecy and avoid uneven shifts in power. He stresses the importance of trust.
“I believe if you want to be trusted, you have to trust first,” he says. “If you do that, you will be betrayed sometimes. But the value of engendering trust is greater than the cost of being betrayed sometimes. People believed we were going to tell them the truth, be straight, honest, and didn’t think we were going to screw them.”
Further, Leslie makes developing a strong working environment a priority.
“It’s not about command and control. You attract the best and the brightest and people and create an environment where they can use their intelligence and judgment to act autonomously.”
For all of us charged with leading organizations of learning, we know that successful schools are built around a strong, shared culture and community. Clint Smith, the CEO of a marketing firm in Tennessee, shared ideas for how to develop and sustain the often illusive, but always desired, workplace culture. He began by examining the physical environment and ensuring his workplace was one where employees could be productive and feel happy in their work. William Smith, founder of IT company Euclid Elements, highlighted the need for leaders to develop awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. This requires continual self-examination from individuals as well as the team as a whole.
“We want to get better at designing and developing products. That requires a real self-awareness as a team, and that’s an extremely important part of the culture we want to create- being aware of what we do well and what we don’t do so well.”
One of my takeaways from Educon each year is the way in which principal Chris Lehmann has built a shared culture for learning with all teachers, students, and the community, and it is both highly apparent and intoxicating. So while bringing the best team on board is an important part of a leader’s role, how the team is managed is equally as important. So agrees Leslie.
“You have to get great people to come in,” Leslie says. “You have to respect them, give them freedom. You have to provide the mission and the vision: Who are we and where are we going?”
Other leaders featured in the article stressed the importance of having fun with your teams; weeding out employees who don’t want to be team players or don’t treat colleagues with respect; empowering and allowing team members to shine and reap the rewards of their hard work; and building an organization that is sustainable over time. With all of these philosophies and strategies shared, consider the quote featured in the center of the article:
“Creating a system that enables employees to achieve great things often comes down to the work of a single leader.”
No pressure, eh?
Leslie’s closing words touched upon the realities of leadership, which can be isolating and solitary.
“It’s an old cliche: It’s lonely at the top. It truly is. There’s no one to talk to. It’s a journey of discovery, a journey alone. And you actually have to be comfortable enough with yourself to do that.”
For school leaders such as those I’ve come to know through Connected Principals and other groups in my PLN, I think we have an advantage in that while we do embark on many solitary journeys each and every day, we know we have a strong foundation of colleagues and experienced voices to support us along the way.
Read the article online in its entirety here: Leadership Lessons from the Top of the Org Chart, by Christopher Hann.