The first school leader I worked for, some 38 years ago, ran a very tight ship, so to speak. He was reluctant to do anything different, and felt those that "rocked the boat" were not a good fit for his organization. Suggest anything new, and you heard from him. Years later I discovered he acted out more in fear than in a defined vision of educational values. This has lead me to analyze all of the people that have had a significant impact in my career on their learning communities.
In the world of school leaders there are only two kinds of people: the "mediocre/status quo leader" and the "remarkably successful leader". Which one do you want to be for your school learning community?
We have all seen what the "status quo/mediocre leader" is like, for there are many like him/her in official positions of schools and other organizations. They follow through with the motions of being an administrator or leader, lacking the unique vision or drive to initiate impactful change. Their operational mode is to not cause controversy- don’t rock the boat- and to exist from one school year to the next. After a long tenure in the role they retire, or move on to some other career. But, the state of the school community is left to idle and become a passive place for change that neglects a proper and challenging education for children.
The “remarkably successful leader” is a uniquely different kind of person. And this type of leader is needed now, more than ever to make the learning community a vital and exciting place for change and student achievement. In reading an excellent article by Jeff Haden of Inc.com(1), I note his recommendations for truly remarkable and successful people in an organization. Here are his recommendations:
Remarkably successful people:
...don’t create back-up plans.
They do the work...
...and they work a lot more.
They avoid crowds
They start at the end
...and they don’t stop there.
And they are never proud (Haden, 2012)
So, how does this apply to school leaders that seek to become inspiring leaders for their learning communities?
- A school leader needs to have a bold, and daring plan that challenges their learning community to change. Leaders with back-up plans are creating an “easy out” for the organization and themselves. Recommendation: create a bold vision and don’t create a back-up plan. “If somehow the worst does happen (and the "worst" is never as bad as you think) trust that you will find a way to rebound. As long as you keep working hard and keep learning from your mistakes, you always will.” (Haden, 2012).
- The work of the school leader is never ending, and to be effective in the role he/she needs to do the work, the hard work, and nothing but the work to be better than average. Recommendation: do your homework, and study your profession carefully. “Scratch the surface of any person with rare skills and you'll find a person who has put thousands of hours of effort into developing those skills.” (Haden, 2012)
- The successful school leader works the long hours of the job. Whether it’s coming in early, leaving late, attending all of the meetings, concerts, athletic events, and what have you, they work harder and longer than most other people in the learning community. Recommendation: to be an impactful school leader, be there, and be everywhere. “Every extremely successful entrepreneur I know (personally) works more hours than the average person--a lot more. They have long lists of things they want to get done. So they have to put in lots of time.” (Haden, 2012)
- Most successful school leaders lead a lonely existence. If they are treated as outcasts in their organizations, they are also treated that way in the professional networks and communities. Recommendation: don’t sacrifice your commitment to success for a social professional life, and don’t defer to those mediocre leaders around you that talk a good game but have no idea where they are going. “Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won't do. They go where others won't go because there's a lot less competition and a much greater chance for success.” (Haden, 2012)
- Goal setting is not something a successful leader engages in, or at least they don’t call it that. For the successful leader “beginning with the end in mind” (Covey, 1990) or “starting at the end” (Haden, 2012) is how these leaders establish the direction for the learning community. Recommendation: begin by asking where you want the learning community to be in the future, and what will that future look like. “Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the cheapest, the biggest, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal.” (Haden, 2012).
- Self-limiting goals are not the end point but the beginning for successful leaders. Recommendation: keep a log book or journal listing what future projects will look like. “Remarkably successful people don't try to win just one race. They expect and plan to win a number of subsequent races.” (Haden, 2012)
- The successful school leader is constantly motivating, dialoging and selling his/her plan to the learning community. Selling is the craft of the successful leader that believes in their mission. Recommendation: keep communicating with the learning community to let them know where they are headed as a group. “Selling is convincing other people to work with you. Selling is overcoming objections and roadblocks.” (Haden, 2012)
- Finally, pride is the Achilles Heel of a successful leader. When it is all about the leader and not the organization, arrogance, hubris, and attitude will destroy the future of the learning community. “To admit they made a mistake. To say they are sorry. To have big dreams. To admit they owe their success to others. To poke fun at themselves. To ask for help. To fail. To try again.” (Haden, 2012)
I have had the honor of knowing and working for a few
outstanding leaders in my career. They were people that
fulfilled the preceding eight habits to a positive and
constructive outcome for their schools and their communities.
Their example is what ignited others to succeed, and
complete the work of their schools. It is possible for you
(1) Haden, Jeff. "8 Habits of Remarkably Successful People." Inc.com, November 07, 2012. http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/8-habits-of-remarkably-successful-people.html (accessed November 8, 2012).