FYI: You’re not a teacher leader and that’s okay…….
I am so blessed to be friends with several great educational leaders. These individuals always refuel and give my soul the jolt is sometimes needs with just a word or phrase. These friends have made a lasting impact on me and so many others, but still day in and day out continue to reach new people. These friends use their powers for good and not evil, speaking out against inequity in educational spaces and continue to pull up a seat for themselves and others at the often exclusive education decision-making table. One of my leader friends astonishes me with his innate ability to robustly impact every situation he is in with authenticity, grace, and passion. He has had a profound impact on me in our five plus years of friendship and I pray that one day I can even remotely be in the same leadership stratosphere as him.
There are several qualities of leadership that are innate (I know people will disagree) and I believe that people either have these abilities or they don’t. I get concerned when I hear we need more teacher leaders or we need to encourage more people to assume educational leadership roles, when a significant number of these individuals were not born to lead. You can be a very good classroom teacher, but still not necessarily be a leader, because those are not one in the same. Unfortunately in education, we’ve regularly promoted individuals who on paper/the internet look great or have great classrooms but who are not adequately equipped or capable of leading diverse groups of students and adults. We promote and put these teacher leaders into positions they cannot handle and we wonder where we went wrong. If we currently have so many effective leaders or teacher leaders in educational spaces, why are all students, teachers, and schools not thriving?
I believe effective educational leaders have the characteristics listed below, some of these characteristics are innate while others are cultivated and grown. After reading the list, I hope you examine some of the people you have labeled as leaders (including yourself). Some of the people you think are leaders actually, might be only a hollow golden statue on the self-created pedestal……with you just being one of their a fangirls or fanboys …..
Substance: Successful leadership requires substance which stems from integrity. People of substance are secure in their abilities, able to articulate a vision for a group, and are able to make decisions to get all the correct components in place to make that vision a reality. Leaders of substance are so clear and focused on their vision that it is almost unshakeable. They are great at making decisions that are empathetic, efficient, and clear driving groups of people toward a goal. They help their followers carve successful paths by not maintaining status quo, always desiring to make themselves and others better.
Confidence: True leaders innately are able to carry themselves in any situation in a confident manner. There is always a fine line between confident and cocky, but there are some big red flags that will help you distinguish the two. Confident people are not condescending, cocky ones are. Confident people are not passive aggressive, cocky ones are. Confident people can be reserved and are not attention-seeking, whereas cocky individuals usually seek attention regularly. Finally, confident people can still thrive in surroundings that might be new, pressure-filled or uncomfortable whereas cocky people will eventually crumble. Confidence stems from substance and mental toughness which all leaders have. Confidence is a skill that is refined and increased over the years, but a skill great leaders are born with.
Respected: Leadership should never be a popularity contest. Neil Gupta recently wrote a blog post about leaders having thick skin which is such an important trait. Leadership should never be about how many Twitter followers you have or how likes you get on a post. Like is an emotion, it is fleeting. Haven’t we all once either received or passed a note in junior high school that looked like this:
Being liked is not what leaders care about. Great leaders are intrinsically motivated. Having 10K
followers fans, labeling yourself, being on top 10 lists, and having numerous blog post/podcast is not what drives them. Instead, leaders focus on respectable and continuous actions and words that match, striving to do things that are best for entire groups of people. Really good leaders understand their decisions can make some people uneasy, unhappy and rustle some feathers. The funny thing is very good leaders, although their truth speaking makes some people uncomfortable are universally respected. They regularly make quality decisions respected by all. Respect is a solid, long lasting characteristic that has to be earned through quality actions and does not blow in the wind like emotions. Great leaders understand the difference between like and respect and strive for the latter.
“Keeping it real.”
“Keepin’ it 100.”
This characteristic is huge and definitely innate. Authenticity is something that many strive for and few actually obtain and live out in their lives. Great leaders are authentic, always showing both their flaws and strengths and leave nothing lurking in the shadows. Authetic leaders have the highest integrity and you never have to worry about any “deeds being done in the dark” that one day will come to light. They remain steadfast with their decisions and are honest with all parties involved. Their behaviors and words always match and there is never a time you do not know where you stand. Authenticity is so easy to respond to because it is real and is a tremendous factor in helping others buy into the vision they are selling.
Empowering: When an individual puts their personal gain, feelings, desires aside to grow, push and encourage others to excel and carve their own piece of the pie that is empowerment. The interesting thing, empowerment to me is demonstrated by the day to day actions that are usually not boisterous or attention grabbing. Recently, a great leader friend of mine flexed her empowerment muscle. Instead of accepting a situation at face value, she used her platform and voice to raise the voices of others through the creation of EdTech Bloggers of Color. This awesome example of leadership demonstrates her desires to enhance and promote others, not for personal glory, but instead, increase the volume of other voices that need to be heard. Her decision and action benefited not only the individuals she empowered, but the educational community now will get a glimpse of the great work others are doing.
Impactful: Finally, a true leader is impactful which requires all of the previously mentioned charactertics. I don’t know how many times people give themselves a title or classify themselves as an educational leader and truly have not made an impact. What students’ lives have you impacted? If you saw just one of your former students today at the mall, would they stop and speak to you, or quickly shuffle past you? What other teachers have you helped improve their professional practice? How have you impacted those outside your building’s four walls? This to me has been the neatest phenomenon in educational leadership. So many proclaimed gurus of educational technology or self-proclaimed teacher leaders who have fans. Great leaders don’t have fans, but followers. Followers are people that have changed, examined and altered their thinking and actions due to the leader’s influence. Time and time again, top 10 list are put out, keynotes happen but little to no impact is made….why is that? To become an impactful leader you must have substance, be respected, have confidence and empower others. It is a package deal that many of the loudest or most commonly heard from really do not have.
Leadership is not for everyone and requires so much, so hopefully, more of those uniquely gifted individuals assume these roles in educational spaces. Find people that are great leaders and continue to learn from them. It is okay to be ‘just teacher’ and follow a great leader and thrive. So you’re not a leader, that’s okay. Can you still be impactful in your classroom or building? Absolutely. Can you empower your students daily? Definitely, I hope you always will. Can you be a veteran teacher who is respected without a title as teacher leader? YES! I wish more people would realize there is no need to strive for a title you are not truly equipped to handle. You are not a leader, and that is perfectly okay.