Great Leaders Are Built on Strong Foundations

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

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.






Interested in School Leadership? What Aspiring Leaders Should Do To Prepare

Very excited to start a new cohort of aspiring leaders today.  Everyone is thinking about succession plans, developing a pool of talent, and having leaders ready to make the move into the roles of assistant principal and eventually principal.

It’s been a great enjoyment to work with a large number of these cohorts, and as next year begins to develop, there will be more and more cohorts that I’ll have the pleasure to lead as they prepare for upcoming roles.  The abundance of aspiring leader cohorts points to a handful of truths:  1)  leadership is critical for school success; 2) preparation is crucial; 3) the churn in school leadership continues and we are steadily in need of replacements.

For systems, RESAs, and states who are far-sighted enough to develop cohorts of aspiring leaders, their prospects will be brighter as the need comes (and it most certainly will) for new leaders to step into school administration.  Learning together in a strong cohort is definitely a plus for the aspiring leader, but what can individuals do to better prepare themselves for future roles in administration?  Here are a few ideas to consider:

step up to the challenge

  1.  To lead tomorrow, lead today.  It’s probably true that ‘aspiring leaders’ is a misnomer;  if we are truly preparing tomorrow’s APs and Ps, they most likely are (and really need to be) leaders today.  Teachers are definitely leaders.  Those who do so with intent can be developing into the leaders they will need to be.  The jobs are all different:  Teacher, AP, Principal.  That said, leadership is a continuum, and one can lead from a variety of positions.  If you are a teacher, or if you’re advising/coaching a teacher who wants to “get into” school administration, one of the best things you can encourage is that they actively lead in what they do now.  Be a good leader as a teacher, then you’ll be better prepared to be a leader of teachers.
  2. Read about leadership.   Leaders are readers.  If you want to be ready later, read about it now.  Lencioni, Sinek, Pink; Gladwell, Hattie, Fullan, Marzano, and DuFour.  There are more now, but they will change.  If you aspire to lead, find the leaders that are readers, find out what they’re reading and follow along. You can look at this blog under the tab ‘Professional Reading’ for suggestions every Saturday! 🙂
  3. Do Things On Your Own.  Before I was ever hired for an administrative job, I’d spent hours siting in on discipline meetings, watching my AP handle things from sleeping in class to expellable infractions. I’d been given the chance to sit in on scheduling, budgeting, and was given the opportunity to ask as many ‘why’ questions as I wanted.  I had really good mentors, but the biggest thing was that I showed up and asked for the opportunity.  NONE of that was for a class, for credit, or for any pay; all of it was for me to learn, and it’s amazing how interested the teachers are when the learners come on their own. If you sit back and wait for someone to show you everything, you’ll just keep waiting.
  4. Be In Charge.  Coach a team. Sponsor a club. Serve as the lead of your PLC.  Lead your school’s Relay For Life team.  Do all of them at once, while you’re teaching your regular load.  That’s a good start to prepare you for school-level administration.  The more you are “in charge” before you apply to be an assistant principal, the better you’ll be prepared to serve in that role.  There are things you can learn by reading, and there are things you can only learn by doing.  Being in charge means that you are responsible for the results of an activity that involves people other than you.  The more you do of that, the more you’ll be ready to be the AP and later the P.
  5. Define Yourself, Your Mission, Your Code.  Who are you?  What are you here for?  What are your beliefs?  What will you fight for?  What are you working for?  NOW is the time to ask yourself the hard questions, to reflect on your answers, to write them down.  You need to know who you are bringing into this before you enter, not after.  Your ideas may change over time, but you need a baseline.  Keep it somewhere you can refer back to.  It will be essential throughout your leadership journey.
  6. Make Mistakes and Learn From Them.   The learning you do is usually from your mistakes.  If you try to be perfect (and avoid risks by doing so) you’ll probably not learn very much.  That won’t be a good preparation for leadership.  My mistakes made me into a leader, not my successes.  My successes made my head big and I needed more mistakes to get me back into learning mode.  Give thanks for failure, as long as you’ll learn from it.
  7. Look to help others be successful and happy.   There’s never a bad time to work on one’s own heart.  As you prepare to become the AP and later the P, if you have developed an affinity for serving other people, it will be second nature for you later.  There is nothing more important for the leader than to look to help others be successful before finding your own success.  It’s amazing what a simple concept this is but how easy it is to evade you as you get caught up in the rhythms of life.  Practice serving others now, and then you’ll be better prepared to be the leader of the school than most anyone else.







%d bloggers like this: