School & District Management Opinion

It Takes Courage to Invest in Leadership as a Personal Process

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 27, 2016 5 min read
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The lack of funding and lack of dedication to the continuing education of educators is a problem. Certification programs aim at preparing teachers and leaders with the essential knowledge for beginning a career. Little is budgeted for leadership development and public defense of that line item can be a nightmare. Have you heard the argument that teachers are so well paid and work such short years that they should attend and pay for their own development. Does that conversation still swirl around? But, we know that investing in the capacities of teachers and leaders will always have an affect upon the students.

When change has no constituency and the status quo has a strong one, when the world in which our students live is in a constant state of flux, when our students and we, ourselves, have access to learning by accessing experts on YouTube and to communication through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, when our classrooms and facilities resemble the past century, we need to build a change constituency. Yet, it is only those leaders who have come by their leadership capacities naturally that have a chance at leading change without instruction, experience, and coaching.

Blogs Are Not Enough
Blogs are great and we recommend that educators stay up to date with new thinking by reading them. They allow us to read someone else’s thoughts and opinions. Some include references to support their writing or for future reference for the readers. They are brief and most often, because they are opinion pieces, they can be mind opening and can be returned to for clarification, unlike most conversations. Sometimes blogs are provocative and get our ire up. Some of us stick with the blogs of those who seem to think similarly to us, and who keep us motivated on a path already chosen. As authors of this blog, we both enjoy writing and noting the appreciation of our readership. As readers of the blogs of others, we appreciate the opportunity to have our minds stretched and to hear what innovative thinking and actions are taking place in our field.

Blogs serve the purpose of preventing us from becoming stagnant in our work. As leaders, both in the administrative and teaching ranks, learning about new things and considering another’s perspective regularly is a really good thing. Stopping at that point is not. Blogs do not take the place of the deeper learning we need in order to advance our understanding and lead purposefully in a new direction.

Choose Wisely, But Choose

Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations - Brené Brown

Changing oneself requires daring greatly. Rarely does one embark on this path without a humbling experience that allows us to discover the courage to be vulnerable. Too many seek to avoid the growth moments that vulnerability allow. Who yearns to stand before an organization wide meeting at one’s most vulnerable? Who wishes to call constituents to a decision making table where warfare of words will fly? On the surface, it appears to be foolish and it is risky business....but that is why courage comes along. But everyone who steps away for the familiar knows the mix of excitement, anticipation and fear that causes you to know that you have just chosen to make yourself vulnerable. This is a skill that today’s leaders will have to develop in order to lead successfully. Little time is spent on courage development as one pursues leadership preparation. How does it happen? Some of us choose our way in; others are thrown there by a turn in life’s road and we find ourselves at a point where survival requires us to dig deeper and rise up again.

Some leaders enjoy a relationship with board’s and colleagues allowing them to explore a myriad of personal leadership learning options. Their systems value personal professional development highly enough to invest in it both financially and with time. Others won’t know its value unless they are exposed to something or someone who opens a door. And, it may come from a blog, or an article or a conference or a mentor or coach, or the superintendent or the board of education to identify the value and encourage investment in the process.

C. Otto Scharmer says this requires an open mind, an open heart and an open will. Then the place where personal and professional energy arise can propel a person and his or her organization into new territory. Some are finding this in the coaching process. The benefits of working with a skilled coach, who is trusted, can ask open and honest questions, and accompany a leader on the journey, is one pathway with increasing acceptance.

How many districts are prepared to invest in more than a one-day seminar for their leaders? In a Forbes article about Leadership, August Turak talks about the successful business of Trappist monks who have been

...among the world’s most successful businessmen for over 1,000 years precisely because they dedicate their entire lives to personal development...

The secret is that their personal, organizational, and business lives are all subsets of their one, high, overarching mission- becoming the best human beings they can possibly be. Business success for the monks is merely the by-product and trailing indicator of living for a higher purpose. Trappist business success is living proof that when we seek first the kingdom of personal development everything else will take care of itself. And this is true of our personal lives as well.

You see, leadership is not a skill, but a life-long process of personal development. We exercise and develop courage along the way. It may seem strange to a board of education or to those stepping into an administrative role believing it would call upon their management skills alone. As communities look for courageous, principled leaders they discover that leaders who have responded deeply and with vulnerability to life and their professional challenges know themselves best and can best commit to a life-long journey of self-development for themselves and for those with whom they work. Becoming your authentic self may not seem like it will have a direct effect upon the students in your schools, but we know it does.

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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.