A leader is defined by the Penguin Dictionary as, “somebody or something that ranks first, precedes others, or holds principal position; somebody who has commanding authority or influence” (Penguin, 2004). Reading though various sources, leadership can be defined in many different ways. Definitions of leadership differ widely from author to author. In fact, it is very difficult to define what ‘leadership’ is in our ever-changing, modern world. The literature that is available offers many techniques in which to become an effective leader, but thoughts about what leadership actually is and how leadership traits are developed often clash.
Leaders in education must exemplify the same skills of leaders in any organisation. In fact, it could be disputed that leaders in an educational setting must be able to demonstrate more fully, than leaders in any other context, this bank of tools that many authors refer to. Educational leaders not only have to lead other colleagues, parents and staff but also lead the children in their care.
Yesterday I touched briefly on the top two traits of effective leaders in education. Today I will continue with another two qualities that I feel, all successful leaders demonstrate.
Another essential characteristic is the ability to be flexible with your leadership styles. When you participate in various leadership courses and sessions, we are constantly taught about theories and styles of leadership. We take diagnostic tests to find out what styles we prefer and then learn how to adopt other styles when necessary. It is this, that is crucial. Being able to switch between different styles of leadership when the situation deems it necessary to do so. If we are stuck in one style of leadership in everything we do, we won’t be effective in every situation. Therefore, an effective leader must adapt his characteristics and be able to read situations and act accordingly. Many authors suggest this is the ability to quickly change your style seamlessly, or as Jay Conger suggests, this is the “chameleon leadership capability” (Developing Leadership Capability: What’s Inside the Black Box, 2004, 139).
Another quality that is essential, is the ability to celebrate other’s achievements. I mean ‘genuinely’ celebrate achievements. All too often, I have worked with leaders who are hesitant to do this, as if they are jealous of what their colleagues have been able to do. Being a leader means being able to recognise talent and allowing colleagues to be creative and to use that talent for successful gains. Yes, this means that the spotlight will be directed onto someone else. Parents and governors will exude praise and confidence in that member of staff (something as a leader/headteacher you will hardly hear!), but it was you, the leader, who allowed them that chance, who gave them the opportunity to shine, to demonstrate their talent and to use it to impact the children. As a leader, you provide the opportunity, but you too must provide the constant encouragement and praise. Then when all is successful, you must celebrate the achievement. I find this easy to do, but I know from experience of working with other leaders, that there is always a competitive edge, or further that they then somehow take all the credit for the success. Colleagues take notice when you praise their work, especially when you don’t take the credit. A true leader allows others to shine.
Clearly, experience is a vital factor in building ones leadership potential. It seems that through understanding different factors that affect leadership, one can build up their ‘repertoire’ and skills of becoming an effective leader. Understanding different skills, styles and factors that influence situations, contexts and people; leaders can learn new methods to deal with these diverse dynamics that are encountered daily in any organisation.
Tomorrow I will continue with my list of effective leadership attributes.
What does an effective leader look like to you?