Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Possibly THE Most Important Quality of Effective School Leaders

Do a search for "qualities of effective leaders" and you will find no shortage of opinions.  As a practicing educational leader and as a researcher of educational leadership, I am always interested in those opinions and look forward each day to learning a little more about the theory and practice of effective leadership - especially educational leadership.  However, sometimes lost in the conversation is a quality of an effective leader that many time is taken for granted, and may possibly be THE most important for effective leadership.

You have to WANT to be a leader.

I know, this sounds obvious, maybe even a little anti-climactic, but bear with me as I explain.

I have a friend who was a school administrator that had come up through the ranks at his school.  Before he became an administrator, he was considered one of the school's best classroom teachers.  Soon after taking on his administrative role, he began to realize that he really didn't want to be an administrator.  As a result, he was increasingly frustrated and unhappy with his work.  His passion for education had become nothing more than a job, and he was miserable.  After a few years to trying to work through his feelings, he finally reflected on his performance and decided that:

  • it was not up to his own standards of effectiveness
  • he didn't see how he was making much of a contribution to the success of the school
  • he found himself regretting his decision to leave the classroom almost daily
  • he realized that the only reason he continued to do his administrative work was out of contractual obligation, not passion.
  • he didn't really WANT to lead (in the sense of being an administrator - teachers ARE leaders)
He decided to talk to his supervisor and put together a plan for him to leave his administrative position to find a role doing what he really wanted to do - teach in the classroom again.  During that meeting, his supervisor agreed that he didn't seem happy in the role and that his work was not as effective as the supervisor had hoped it would be.  Amazingly, the supervisor offered him a chance to stay at the school in his previous role.  This was totally unexpected, and my friend eagerly agreed to the offer.

There are probably many examples such as this, but the point is that before anyone can bring passion, inspiration, vision, etc. into a role, they have to WANT to be the person who does those things.  If a leader is not inspired by his own vision and the daily challenge of working with others to share that vision and bring it to life, then the WANT is not there - and it cannot be manufactured with more money, greater responsibility, or a nice office.

WANTING to lead is not being 'ok' with more responsibility or being put "in charge."  Those are mostly external realities of taking on a formal leadership role.

WANTING to lead is internal.  It is the motivation you get from knowing those external forces are waiting for you to guide them through towards a better version of what your school already is.
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