One of the questions that often comes up about leadership is this one: are leaders born or can leaders be made?
Nearly every day, I think about leadership. I’ve been doing so for as long as I can remember. I’d been given “leadership opportunities” since I was very young. My parents valued the importance of leadership so it became something important to me.
Most of my career has been involved leadership: as a coach, a teacher, assistant principal and principal. Over the last five years, I’ve been working to support school leaders, and help prepare new leaders.
Here’s what I’ve come to believe: we all have the capacity to lead; we all have the capacity to learn to lead more effectively. To support that work, there is some foundational work that should be done. With the foundation set, you are able to lead in the busy, unpredictable and unscripted world of school leadership. Without the foundation, it’s easy to flounder, to float, and to not be prepared for the moments that need a leader.
Questions In Developing Your Leadership Foundation
- Who Am I? At the core of leadership is self-awareness. One of the most important tools you’ll use to grow as a leader is reflection, so getting a baseline is critical. Even more so, if you know who you are up front, it will be easier for you to keep yourself and avoid getting lost.
- What Am I Here For? Purpose. What’s your purpose? What is your mission? As the leader, what are you to do? Establishing your personal vision and mission is a fundamental piece of leadership. If you are an aspiring leader, this is something you work on while you’re in your preparation phase. If you have this established, you can hit the ground running when you assume your post as a school administrator.
- What Do I Believe? In addition to identifying who you are and what you’re here for, the leader is well-served by developing a list of beliefs pertinent to leadership. Making your belief statement is a perfect complement to your identity, your vision, and your mission. These are things you think to establish your true North and to serve as a compass for you in your work.
- What Will I Fight For? This is typically a sub-set of your beliefs statement. In answering what will I fight for, you identify your deepest beliefs and strongest passions. These are the things that will be at the core of your work and will drive your actions on a daily basis. (I’m not a fan of the phrase “non-negotiable”… sounds a little too argumentative for the kind of leaders school need. Answering this question may seem similar, but it is a deeper commitment than even that. It’s a basis for what you’ll seek to do at your school as the leader. The sooner you establish this, the more focused you can be in your work.)
A note about these questions: these are not just an exercise or busywork. They are the fundamental base for you, who you are, and what you believe. Think about them. Write them down. Update them at least annually.
If you’re currently a principal or assistant principal, these are questions worthy of your reflection; if you aspire to be in one of those jobs, use this preparation time to construct well-developed answers to each of the questions.
As you grow as a leader, some of your answers will stay the same and remain with you throughout your career. You’ll add some things; you’ll delete some things. That’s part of what it means to grow.
But to do those things, you have to have a place to start. Your experiences so far have helped shape you into who you are. Take the time now to take stock of these fundamental pieces of you. They will shape you as a leader for some time to come.