Education Opinion

Leadership Identity

By LeaderTalk Contributor — May 07, 2009 2 min read
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Each of us has a professional identity. You may think you are looked upon as a hard working educational leader; but your identity, what others think of you, may be very different.

For example, I know a few dedicated folks who feel they are going ‘over and above’ to do their jobs and that people recognize their effort. In fact, their identity among their professional colleagues is that they are folks who can’t be relied on. Why do people feel that way about them? They don’t return phone calls or e-mails consistently. This inconsistency leaves people hanging, and after a while they lose faith in them.

There are those that attend various meetings and commit to doing things and then get so busy with their ‘real’ jobs that they don’t have time to follow through. It’s not the end of the world to do this once; but because these leaders repeat the pattern, they become known as ‘all talk’.

There are leaders I know who have identities of ’self promoters’. At meetings with their colleagues they have all the answers. They talk a lot about how wonderful things are in their districts; and rarely listen to what others have to say. It’s all about them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those technology leaders with the ‘I can’t win’ identity. As their budgets shrink and their aged computers age even further, they see no correlation with their own ineffectiveness as leaders. However, their colleagues do. Whatever their image is of themselves, these folks are seen as negative and weak. They are often sarcastic, “Sure, my teachers can’t wait to use technology.” Their signature responses to suggestions from others are things like, “I’ve tried that.” “You don’t understand, that won’t work with my (insert group here: teachers, administrators, superintendent, principal, board of education).”

I know leaders who have the reputation of having great ideas; but little follow through.

There are those who are known as ‘control freaks’. Everything has to go through them. Every request, every issue, every piece of information must pass through their filters. They control the flow of information to their superintendents, administrators, and teachers. They are guardians of the gate.

Their are those that deal in ‘drama’. They’re involved in conflicts where ever they go. They are well-known among their colleagues because they are always talking about some other colleague (usually negatively) when they aren’t around.

It is a good idea to give some thought to what identities we have created for ourselves. We need a good mirror because what we think our identity is may be very different from how others see us.

A practice that I employ before meetings is to ask myself, “What identity do I want to have with the others in this meeting?” My identity for a specific meeting, depending on the situation, might be:

a trusted adviser, a team player, a good listener, someone with specific expertise, someone that is organized, a strong leader, an individual with vision, an individual with experience, etc.

Of course, there are leaders that have earned positive identities and sometimes we can have both positive and negative identities simutaneously. As leaders we are called upon to take an honest look at where we need to improve and to adopt practices that strengthen our ability to lead effectively.

Focusing on our identity is not play-acting or being manipulative.

It is simply being deliberate about the actions we take in the world and doing our best to be more effective in our jobs.


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The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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