There are many ways to learn and develop leadership abilities. Following experts, blogs and reading leadership materials is a great away to get information and to grow. But as we know with students, experiential learning is one of the strongest, most profound and longest held method of learning. I have had the gift of having some amazing principal mentors, and opportunities to learn from not so strong leaders. The one thing about having these experiences that I can take away, is the importance of how leaders interact and engage with people which is pivotal to strong leadership. People always remember how you made them feel. Even with the seemly strong, unflappable, or calm; people are emotive and emotions impact performance. How we connect and engage people is central to great leadership. How leaders connect with people (in both good and bad times) will determine the success of your organization. Here are a couple of my own lessons from great leaders.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
-John Quincy Adams
Being a new member of a leadership team, I set out to prove myself. Shortly after starting, I had a hectic morning; dropping off my son at daycare crying, traffic congestion, and spilling my coffee during the drive. As I got situated in my office, my new principal called me to his office. Not sure what spurred this impromptu meeting, and suddenly feeling a little nervous, I made my way to his office. He happily told me good morning, and to look at the amazing sunrise outside his office window. “I know you are just the person who would appreciate this great sunrise,” he proclaimed.
I remember feeling like he saw something in me; a depth or quality of a person that I wanted to be. He gave me the gift of positive regard and affirmation. And that gift inspired me to want to continually develop to be the person; to continually learn, perform and contribute. And I still remember those words more than five years later.
“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Colin Powell
Great leaders demonstrate integrity, develop trust and build relationships. They are held in high regard; they demonstrate good judgement; care and serve the people around them. Above all, they listen. Working alongside some great leaders; I noticed a strong pattern emerge. Great leadership transcends the ‘work.’
We all know that teachers don’t check their life challenges at the door. With great principals, staff (and parents) will access them for support and guidance for a variety of issues, many personal. Great leaders show mindfulness of others’ emotional states. They know that feelings impact performance. It is pivotal to engage with people, as part of successful leadership. How and why people access principals, and the corresponding element of trust, is strongly correlated to their quality of leadership.
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” – Nelson Mandela
Great leaders demonstrate humility. They empower others to make them great and are not full of themselves. The goals of the organization are the priority, not their egos. Great leaders also recognize the bulk of the responsibility for the organization stops at the top. One of my principals reflected that everything in the school ultimately was her responsibility. Before looking outward at staff members for failure, she looked towards herself. Was it a communication error? Were resources in place to ensure success? She had no hesitation to sweeping the floor, or covering for an absent lunch lady. There were very few tasks that she would not do, that was asked of her staff. These tasks were not done sardonically to send a message; or out of fear of confrontation. She simply accepted the burden of responsibility in the organization and truly walked the talk. She was part of the team at every level.
This great principal showed me the power of “the window and the mirror” of level 5 leadership (Jim Collins, 2001). Having experiences in schools that both emulate, or disregard, the ‘window and the mirror,’ has brought understanding to a remarkable correlation of positive school climate and this leadership practice. Leadership that is disconnected from authentically recognizing people when they have brought value to an organization is a morale killer. The ripples are seen with staff hesitant to innovate, collaborate and overall produce to the best of their ability. Tied into usurping others ideas, efforts and successes to promote a leader’s own agenda (or a schools’s marketability) without attribution, feels like theft – a sure fire way to ensuring the right people for your organization move on to another.
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Great principals appreciate the power of positivity. Thanks to the new field of positive psychology, great leaders recognize that when our mindset and mood are positive, we are smarter, more motivated and more successful. Success is not some distant reward or goal attained; it is in the day to day moments and interactions that are aligned with meaning and purpose. Leadership that reflects positivity has advantage over those that don’t. Even small bouts of positivity (happiness) have been show to align with innovation and creativity. Positivity is a quick and powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, and can improve our focus (Shawn Achor, 2010). Great leaders are a ‘positive’ force in their organizations, part of their service and care for others.
This doesn’t mean that great leaders are blind to the challenges of their organizations. When challenges arise, great leaders know that to serve others, they need to support them with accurate information, within a lens of hope. When uncomfortable truths or procedures come into play, great leaders act quickly, honestly and with compassion. In working with a seasoned teacher that was going through a process of supervision (in which her accreditation was at stake); she was hostile and defiant. The principal demonstrated accurate information and compassion while working with this teacher through the process. In the end, her teacher certification was rescinded. She had accepted that as part of process, and thanked that principal for assisting her with compassion, through out this difficult end to her career.
Great leaders connect and engage people; the driving force behind any organization. What other stories of great leaders can you recall, that used mindfulness of emotional states to promote goals in their organizations?