This week I spent a great deal of time with various leaders trying to understand their roles. I was taken back by these leaders who are so passionate about their work and have a great deal of experience and expertise, yet they shared feelings of inadequacy in meeting the needs of those they serve. These leaders, along with many leaders in education, are spread thin, they have so much on their plates and the stakes are high–our children and their trajectory in life is impacted heavily by their education.
What resonated with me is not that they had so much on their plates, but rather how they responded when I asked how they were supported to develop in their roles as leaders. Most paused and recognized their reality: they weren’t really any systems set up to intentionally develop their skills as leaders and for the most part they hadn’t been seeking it out either.
As the plates fill up and we have more and more to do, the focus on leadership development seems to be pushed aside. Recently, an administrator shared that there had been much more focus on learning about new programs and learning tied to new initiatives but there had been a lack of focus on the development of skills and knowledge to be effective leaders.
In education there is a need to lead complex change and develop new knowledge, skills, and mindsets of others. To meet the needs of the learners in our schools we cannot overlook the importance of developing the skills of leaders. In Good To Great Jim Collins defines Level 5 leaders as those who build enduring greatness through humility and great professional will. This graphic highlights his five levels of leadership.
The benefits of a great leaders are undeniable. There is a great deal of focus on how effective leaders guide, mentor, and empower others–as there should be. The reality, however, is that some are much better at leading than others but that doesn’t mean that with support and intentional development we can’t learn. Ideally, ongoing leadership development would be part an integral part of a learning organization but If you don’t have a formal coaching or leadership development in place, you can and should be intentional about building your own support network.
Here are some questions that I have been grappling with myself that could be used to reflect on your existing support system and consider who you can seek out to cultivate your leadership skills and grow:
- What are your strengths and challenges as a leader?
- How do you set goals and evaluate your success?
- Who can you go to for the honest, critical feedback to grow as a leader?
- Who can can compliment you strengths and challenges as a leader to guide your thinking and decision-making?
- Who can you rely on to support you when things don’t go as planned or you screw up?
Leadership can be lonely and isolating. It can be exciting and rewarding. It can be humbling and scary. It can be powerful but it can’t be done alone.