Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Leadership density and pitfalls to avoid

It has become a generally positive attribute for leaders who work to identify, nurture, and build a “leadership density” within their schools.  In graduate school, I actually had a professor state that a sign of an outstanding leader is that when the leader is not present the school continues to operate without a hitch.  In other words – hire great people, put them in position to be successful, and your school will operate exceedingly well.  For the most part, I do not have any issues with this idea as long as we recognize a few other considerations.leadership2
One item to consider is the potential pitfall of complacency.  School leaders who lose sight of their own influence due to overreliance on the “leadership density” may soon find themselves in a difficult position especially when an issue related to the leader’s responsibilities is questioned.  I have stated many times that a leader can (and should) delegate authority to others, but the leader cannot delegate responsibility.  When leaders become complacent from relying on others, they risk losing a key component to effective leadership – credibility.  Leaders must be present.  People want to feel secure and confident that at the end of the day, if the chips are down, they can count on their leader to step up and provide necessary guidance and support.  Striking the proper balance between building the leadership capacity within the school and maintaining clearly defined roles and responsibilities is essential.
Another factor to remember is that, for the most part, good leadership is hard to find and even harder to hold onto.  School leaders with outstanding leaders working with them will likely not have them for long.  One friend of mine, a head of an independent school for boys, told me that one of his division heads was always being approached about taking the next step to a headship.  His response:  “I’m thrilled to have her, but I know the day will come when she will take the next step.  She’s too good and good leaders are hard to find.”
I asked him how that made him feel.  He said that good leaders recognize that when a member of their team is called to move up and lead another school, it should be a great honor for the leader knowing that he was able to help develop another generation of leadership for our schools.  He also said that, in his opinion, a leader who sees a team member’s opportunity as an affront or gets personally upset is someone the team member may want to avoid (long term) anyway.
Finally, school leaders who get “lost” in building leadership density risk “dulling their knife.”  In other words, the leader needs to stay active in order to employ the skills that helped get her the leadership role to begin with.  Leadership must stay active.  They must stay fresh and current.  Often, this can only be accomplished by getting your hands dirty.
Building the leadership capacity within your school is an important piece to effective leadership.  When done well, the leadership density that emerges is a powerful component to success and innovation.  On the other hand, there are some pitfalls that can easily derail genuine leadership and cause confusion.  Wise leaders are adept at navigating the balance between building capacity and clouding roles and responsibilities.
Items to avoid when building leadership density
  • Complacency – depending too much on the leadership density to do all the leading
  • Confusing delegation of authority with responsibility
  • Thinking that your good leaders will stay forever - good leaders developed under you will eventually leave to take on their own leadership role
  • Negative feelings when your developing leaders are recognized and approached about taking the next step
  • Dulling your own leadership skills
  • Avoiding the hard/difficult work
  • Forgetting to stay current and fresh
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