Leadership Lessons

I began my leadership career as a brash and cocky 29 year old back in 1991. As a new vice principal in High Prairie, holding a  fresh graduate degree, I thought I knew it all. Fortunately, I had a wonderful principal and mentor who took the time to guide me through the beginning of my leadership journey. It has been 21 years since I’ve began in leadership and I have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

  1. Leadership is always about learning- Once I received my Master’s degree, I believed that all I had to do was the job. I was too busy being a “leader” that I forget to keep up with my reading and the latest research. It took me a long time to realize that learning must always be a priority for leaders. This is especially true in the education environment where we consistently promote the concept of lifelong learning. There is no excuse for a leader to not be in a learning mode, especially today with the multitude of avenues available through social media. Today, being connected is being a learner. A leader never reaches the pinnacle of knowledge and says, “I’ve got it- no more learning for me!”
  2. Relationships aren’t everything, authentic relationships are- Every great leader wants to be liked and respected by his or her staff. As Fullan suggests, you need to love your employees. But often, we forget that loving your employees or being relational means being authentic. Authenticity comes from saying what you mean, meaning what you say and finally doing it. It is about being trustworthy and transparent. Authentic relationships foster decisions to be bottom when possible and top down when necessary. It is both consultative and collaborative. However, an authentic relationship is a two-way street involving both parties. These relationships require hard work, are typically messy and often involve disagreement, discourse and debate.    
  3. Surround yourself with excellence- You’re in a leadership position because you have a skill set. But no matter your talent, you cannot have the skills for everything. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, then hire the best who can fill the gaps.  Excellence however, cannot be just talent driven. Excellence must include passion for the work and support of the mission. Leadership is far easier when you surround yourself with people committed to the organizational vision, willing to push your thinking and stretch your leadership. Make sure you not only hire the right people on your bus, but you put them in the right seats.    
  4. The need for patience- Leaders should be able to view their organization from the balcony and the dance floor, simultaneously. The ability to do that enables leaders to set direction and strategically prioritize. However, not everybody has the same vantage point and therefore it takes time and loads of patience to assist people to see what you see. It is important to realize that organizational time to make successful change can be quite different than your own time to implement. Change is difficult for everyone, whether it is done with or to people. Frustration will creep in pretty quickly if you don’t practice patience in leadership.  
  5. The delicate balance of pressure and support- Closely related to the need for patience, is finding the delicate balance between pressure and support. There was never a successful leader hired with the mandate to maintain the status quo. Organizations must continually evolve and improve. Too much pressure usually provides some quick gains but eventually alienates employees and causes significant morale issues. Insufficient pressure often causes complacency. This delicate balance is one of the leader’s greatest challenges and requires him/her to be very cognisant of the current culture of the organization. Leaders needs to know when to push and when to pull back and only when they have intimate knowledge of the organization’s “feel” can they make that decision correctly.

Any leader can attest that leadership cannot be clearly defined and concisely explained in a mere five points. Each of these points spawns further discussion on leadership and chapters of books could be devoted to them. Leadership is complicated. It is hard work! If it wasn’t difficult, everybody would be doing it…well!

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