Not long ago, I was sharing breakfast with a group of women, each a leader in her field. Around the table sat a CEO of a large hospital, a principal, a high school and grade school teacher and me. The CEO said that she was doing a talk about leadership and she was interested in what we thought about the topic.
She posed this question: “What is a leader? What do they expect from those they lead and what do the followers expect from them?” We queried her further and suggested that education leadership was different than leadership found in business. “Don’t educators teach the future business people?” she asked. “Do educators provide a leadership example in their classrooms or their school? If that’s so, then what is it?”
Her questions got me thinking and reading. Words like visionary, engager, innovator, motivator, communicator, inspirer, facilitator and advisor populate every blog post and article I read about leadership. Through the course of my reading, I found a quote by John Adams, the sixth president of the United States. He described leadership this way: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Isn’t this the essence of what an educator truly is?
Leaders encourage risk-taking
Kevin Baxter in Changing the Ending (National Catholic Educational Association: 2011) declares education leaders “must have our eyes on the future. We are not meant to be static, but rather models for lifelong learning that we aim to inculcate in our students.” A leader sees and understands the future even if that future is just tomorrow. He/she begins the process of getting other folks to walk the path to that future. The leader who walks to the future, though it might be just a “tomorrow,” takes a step and creates a path upon which others can follow.
By simply taking a step forward, a leader encourages risk taking, not only personally, but also by those who look to the leader for guidance or inspiration. The gamble of “stepping out into the unknown” causes growth not only within the leader but also among the followers. The attempts at forward movement don’t even have to be successful to be a learning experience. Some of my greatest times of personal learning have come out of an experience that was absolutely a failure. Lessons are learned, and if we are mindful and fortunate, we don’t repeat our mistakes.
As effective leaders do what they are called to do, they look back and support their followers. This support generates energy and gives the group strength to keep moving forward. I have seen this kind of leadership among those who mentor new teachers and assist them to find their voice and their gifts in the classroom. I have seen this in educators who take a reluctant learner and set their soul on fire with love of learning through their personal interest.
Followers, in turn, expect a certain quality of presence or engagement from their leaders. This creates a relationship that acknowledges weaknesses and encourages strengths. It pushes both leaders and followers to work harder to accomplish the goal set before them and at the same time provides room for compassion and empathy.
Leadership that’s both local and global
A surprising phenomenon takes place when technology is introduced into this mix. Leadership is not siloed in a single district, school or classroom. The leadership I describe is becoming more and more apparent and on a global scale. Connective technologies have made it possible for leaders to locate and learn from fellow leaders on a much grander scale and affect change beyond their little physical corner of their world as they attract followers from the global audience.
I can’t help but wonder about my own leadership style. When I teach, do I reach out and lead my students to places of new ideas and new thoughts? Do I lead our teachers within the diocese to take leadership risks of their own that benefit our students? Am I a silo of facts and ideas or do I connect the dots with my students and fellow educators so they can see and think in new ways? This is what true leaders must do. Help connect the dots.
How about you?
Do you lead at home and also share your leadership in the larger world?