First of all, I am going to challenge my own title in this writing as the qualities that I am about to list are not usually people with influence, but people with titles and authority. Leadership and administration are sometimes not synonymous and if an administrator does not make those around them better, they are not leaders, they are bosses.
Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.
Here are some styles you should avoid being or working for if you want to really move forward.
1. The “Blame Everyone Else” Leader
Ever tried to do something that is new to an organization only to be stopped by an administrator saying that “others” are holding things back? Often times, they will say things like, “if it were up to me, I would love for this to happen”, or even act as if they are a martyr and trying to save you from getting in trouble from others. Whatever the case, if someone is blaming others in the organization for not “allowing” you to move forward, trust will be at a minimum. Most administrators are part of a team and although they might not always agree with one another, they will never blame others for a lack of opportunities for educators.
If you think about if, if they are going to throw someone else under the bus, including someone on their own administration team, what do you think that they do when you are not around?
2. The “Driven by Policy” Leader
Policies are often put into place to ensure that students and teachers are safe, yet the process to create them is often long and arduous. With education moving so quickly, some policies are simply outdated and they are not in the best interest of organizations, and more importantly, students. Sometimes policy interferes with doing what is right, but sometimes, doing what is right is hard. It is easy to hide behind policy in this case.
Sometimes obviously we have to stick with policies to ensure safety and I am not saying that we throw them all out the window, but when policy trumps common sense, there are issues.
3. The “Dead-End” Leader
You come up with a great idea that is new to an organization that you are willing to put in the work and effort. You approach your boss and share it with you and they tell you why it probably won’t work. You wait for suggestions.
There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm for someone at work when they are simply told “no”. Great leaders want people to take risks, and although they are trying to protect others, a simple “no” can have harsh repercussions on an individual and ultimately school culture.
This does not mean you need to say yes to everything. But you should ask for further explanations and help people look for ideas, alternatives, or give them the opportunity to take risks. A yes rarely needs an explanation, but in my opinion, “no” always does. But even with the explanation, it is still important that we try to create opportunities to keep that creative flame burning in others and getting involved with an idea or project, or at least offering guidance, says much more than “no”.
4. The “Lack of Knowledge is Power” Leader
With all of the changes in our world, society, and culture, schools need to change. With many administrators, this change leads to not only differences in the classroom, but in their own practice. If administrators do not continuously learn and grow, students lose out.
Yet learning and growth take time and effort, and for some, doing what is comfortable is an easy option. Some of my best administrators were not people that believed they knew everything, but those that actually showed vulnerability and that they actually didn’t know.
Yet when we admit that we don’t know everything, that means we have to trust others and give our “power and authority” away. This model of distributed leadership is very tough on some and they end up hiring great people only to micromanage them. A person that pretends that they know something is much more dangerous than those who can fully admit that they don’t.
So instead of showing humility and a willingness to learn, they often pretend they have an understanding of things that they don’t, which often leads to poor decisions that impact many. The interesting thing is that those that are willing to get into the trenches and admit that they don’t know always have more credibility than those that pretend they do.
Weakness is not knowing, it is not being able to admit it.
I am sure that everyone of us (including myself) that is in a position of authority has done this. No one is perfect. But when these things become the norm, any one of them can be highly detrimental to the culture of a school. It may not impact students directly, but long term, they will lose out the most.