I used to get teased mercilessly by some saying that everyone in education can be a “leader.” If you think of leadership in the traditional context, it is more about positions of authority than it is about ability. For example, not all administrators are leaders, and not all leaders are administrators. It is a skill and process to be developed.
For this post, here is what I mean when I discuss the term “leader”:
A leader has the ability to move others forward in a positive direction.
Is this something you believe all people can attain in some aspect of their lives, personally or professionally? There is a difference between being “the leader” and “a leader.”
This doesn’t mean that you are either a “leader” or a “follower.” Some of the best leaders that I know are incredible followers and know when to step back instead of stepping up.
But if we look at leadership as the ability to move others forward in a positive direction, how do we develop this in our staff and our students?
Here are a few things to think about:
1. Build on the strengths and passions of people instead of focusing on their weaknesses.
If leadership is “the ability to move others forward in a positive direction,” how do we get people to positively move people forward in areas that they hate or have no interest in pursuing?
One of my staff who was not the best at the technology but had a strong passion for learning it, took over the “tech lead” position in my school. His enthusiasm was infectious, as was his willingness to learn with others. The staff took note and jumped on board.
Another staff member was teaching classes he hated and was interested in taking over the physical education program. Once he took over the program, I noticed that he made an impact on other programs and passions in the school because there was more time to focus on what he was good at instead of wading through what he had hated. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do some of the undesirable tasks, they just become much more tolerable when we are given authentic opportunities to tap into our passions on a consistent basis.
This is not reserved for staff only.
One teacher I know developed a “communications department” in her classroom instead of simply having social media accounts prepared for the students. The students went on and suggested which platforms they should use based on why they thought it was important and what audience it would reach. This was not something they were assigned to do, but something they applied to do because of their passion or strength in the area. It provided so much more learning than simply having a “tweeter” of the day, which leads me to the second point.
2. Give ownership over the process, not just the problem.
Do you know the leader who wants you to go figure out a problem but they walk you around ideas so that you believe their idea is your idea? They might want you to take over the solution but they have an exact way of figuring out the problem. This is compliance as a cover for leadership.
If you are to develop someone as a true leader based on their gifts and abilities, you have to trust them with the process as well. It may not be the way YOU would do it, but if they are expected to produce results without having ownership over the way they do things, this is a recipe to ensure that you will get the bare minimum instead of something you could not have conceived on your own.
More trust has to be given in this process because this confidence is crucial to the development of others. Giving leadership opportunities to others, by definition, is leading.
This leads to the last point.
3. Know when to follow.
Sometimes you may know more than the person taking over the process. It may be hard to step back, but sometimes it is necessary. The best leaders I know, know when to give over the process, and stand back even when it is hard to do so. The process is the part that leads to the growth of others.
There is a difference between delegating to get out of work and delegating to give over opportunities to build culture. I have seen administrators have people take over with no interest in where the process goes unless it goes well. Then they are ready to take credit. Being involved in the process is still necessary as mentorship and reciprocated learning is beneficial to all parties.
Sometimes the best way to lead is to go to the back and support, not necessarily get out of the way.
Organizations, schools, and classrooms tend to move forward quickly when we develop a multitude of leaders in different areas than focusing on the abilities of a sole individual. Building on the strengths and passions, giving ownership over the process, and knowing when to step-up or when to step back, is crucial to developing more leaders in your environment, not just followers.
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