School & District Management Opinion

3 Essential Personal Attributes of Leaders

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 07, 2016 4 min read
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The 21st century vision for schools is curious. Almost all searches will have the word ‘vision’ in their recruitment literature. When hiring a new leader, does the board who is interviewing the candidates hold the vision or is the board seeking someone with a vision for their community? Or has a vison merged form the community as they responded to attributes they would like in a new leader....or from the teachers? Is there only one vision or are there many? Who holds that vision? Beneath the vision are the values that drive it into a way of life. Can values consistency be observed by candidates who are interviewed by multiple groups of players?

This process requires a finely tuned and astute antenna for a candidate. A misread or ignoring this fundamental aspect of a search has led many a candidate to become a short lived leader in a district or a school. Once hired, the leader will need to unify the district behind a set of values. He or she are off to a better start if their own values are clear and not for sale to the highest bidder. Everyone will be watching the new leader to ascertain whether the search has yielded a values match that is the right one. The entry will be easier if the match is strong and more disruptive if a values change is on its way with the new leader. But, all will be more able to realize the vision through their united work effort if there is clarity and an articulated message describing the system’s future. Vision and leadership are inextricably connected...seeing the future and taking a school community there. How does one accomplish that?

Leadership Programs and Professional Development
School leadership preparation programs are the first place school leaders formally learn about education, the law, fiscal operations and human resources, building a shared vision, educational leadership in theory and practice, accountability, and student learning, the principalship and perhaps, the superintendency. But few, if any, have courses on the ethics of leadership or on developing the person the leader will become. Even after the leader steps into a new role, professional development remains focused upon the knowledge and skills of administration, supervision, and instructional leadership. Often, school leaders are attending a professional development session with teachers and their presence is to show support. Rarely does a district value the development of the personal leadership capacities of their leaders and even more rarely do they invest in them. The assumption made is that we come fully formed to leadership, able to handle the scrutiny, the criticism, the conflict and the myriad of decisions without difficulty; even when our own family experiences a crisis, the frequently held expectation for leaders is to carry on. How rare would the community be that understands and supports the financial investment in their leaders as people as important?

The New Leader Conundrum
A Catch-22 for new leaders rests in this quandary: if we change leader preparation programs so that educators graduate confident in the new knowledge that informs 21st century teaching and leading, and they enter systems that are struggling to improve 20th century schools, there will be a mismatch? Will they stand out as different and out of touch with ‘how we do business’? What are the schools looking for as the new leader arrives? And is it what the leader believes the school truly needs? If not, does the leader choose to serve the community, maybe setting personal values aside, or lead the community on a journey into a place he or she sees but they do not? This is one of the challenges for leaders in this century. Ongoing personal character development is a daily process.

The Challenge For All Leaders
Understanding the needs of 21st century school change, and working with districts that are struggling to do the work set before them on a daily basis while leading forward, takes more than developing, understanding, and leading a shared vision for change. It requires the capacity to understand one’s self and to muster up the courage to do the work we were called to do. It calls for moral and ethical behavior. It requires the leader to have the strength to stand tall as the stress mounts, all the while remaining steady and deliberating about the skill each moment needs and the coalition that will make the difference.

Klaus Schwalb is the founder of the World Economic Forum. When asked about the type of leadership we need in a world with growing technological advances, a January 25th, 2016 Time magazine article reported his response.

If we do not want to be dominated by technology, we have to become a more human society. What leadership style, what capabilities, do we need to master all these technologies? I believe we need to emphasize the more human aspect in leadership as a counterweight to all of these technological advances... What we can replicate in a robot is a brain. But you will never replicate the heart, which is passion, compassion. And the soul, which enables us to believe.

Passion, compassion and soul are truly the three counterweights to all the advances we experience in the world and the advances we need in our schools. Attention to their development within each of us is essential for successful leadership. They may not be the only attributes needed, but they are the foundation upon which all others stand. Leaders need to attend to these attributes as do the communities who support them and the boards who oversee them.

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.