The concept of leadership is difficult to define. Leadership can mean different things to different people. When reading about the topic of leadership, it is clear that it is hard to pinpoint a definition as there are such varied definitions for it. Further, there is a debate around whether leadership is an innate ability or if it is something that can be learnt and practised. Just from the fact that there are so many leadership courses that claim to ‘teach’ leadership, it seems that there are certain skills, at least, that can be taught.
However, leadership is something that can only be practised in ‘real life’ situations. Different theories and the understanding behind leadership styles allow us to reflect on our abilities and our traits as leaders. Having this understanding can allow ourselves as leaders to be more aware of our characteristics and how we deal with day to day scenarios.
From my experience working with and teaching others’ about leadership, there are some key attributes that I feel are essential in making someone an effective leader within education.
First and foremost, leading by example is fundamental. We always hear this, but what does it look like in practice? It means, simply, that you do what you expect others to do. But even more than that, you remain credible, people see you modelling above and beyond what you expect of them. The way you speak to the children, to other adults and to visitors that come into school, the way you react in stressful situations or react when things don’t go the way you expect, when parents or staff are troublesome or are disrespectful – the way you act in all of these situations, shows your true colours. During these situations, people get to see you for who you really are – so these moments really matter. The thing is, you can’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Therefore, genuinely being able to remain positive and calm during these situations will demonstrate a leader of integrity. Can integrity be learnt? Or is this an attribute that just comes with ‘natural’ leaders? This could be an interesting debate.
A leader also must have a clear vision. A leader without a vision, is like an architect without any plans. If you can’t see where you are going, it will be a chaotic and difficult journey getting there. It is vital to have an achievable vision, but further, be able to get others to ‘buy into’ the vision. Therefore, being able to sell your vision is just as much a part of the job as anything. A leader is able to motivate others to want to work towards their vision. They allow others to become a part of it, giving others a chance to demonstrate their skills to achieve aspects of the vision. In the end, the whole team will have enthusiastically worked towards something they have all played a part in. A leader is able to make their vision, someone else’s vision and is able to get everyone ‘on board.’
I will continue this discussion tomorrow, but it would be good to see what others feel are the key attributes of an effective leader. It can be difficult honing down this list, as there are many traits that are needed in leadership. I will do my best to keep it to ten key aspects.