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?
Sr Geralyn Schmidt
Latest posts by Sr Geralyn Schmidt (see all)
- Virtual Integrity and the Digital Citizen - April 27, 2019
- Eight Aspects of Good Teaching - December 4, 2013
- Does Your School Need a Culture Re-Boot? - August 15, 2013
I love the way you connected idea that leaders work both near and far away from their center of work. I think it points out that it’s good to build a network of resources and colleague who cast a broad net.
So often when I think of how a leader interacts with others, I think they probably struggle not to get too insulated. Only talking with people who are like they are and who agree with them all the time. You said it this way “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.”
That made me sit back think.
How often do I take advantage of gathering input from different kinds of people?
Do I stay in the silo you mentioned or do I have intention when I go out to find others to learn with?
How much richer will I be when I find the voices of learned colleagues who can make me defend my position, parry with me in civil discourse or show me a whole new way of thinking?
I think you’re onto something here. I know that I’m wondering how a person can practically do this. Do you have any ideas? thanks for writing this and for ideas that you’ve shared.
Your questions have caused me to pause as well.
How can a person practically do this? There are hundreds of tools out there in which one can collaborate. They all can be so overwhelming. My advice: Choose two and use them well. For me, I daily check my twitter feeds and classroom20.com These resources, for me, have proven a vauleable resource. The trick is to set aside time in which you can do that. Personally, I find 15 minutes at the beginning of my day works. I actually put a timer on! The trick is to be consistent to the schedule.
I hope this helps!