There are many people in newly formed leadership positions where they have a blank slate to create something new in their work. One of the things that I remember one of my mentors asked me when I first started as a principal was, “What will be your fingerprint on this school after you leave?”
I have always thought about that statement in my career and bring it to everything that I do. One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. Many people in administrative positions will best be remembered because they brought food to workshops. That’s great, but it’s not enough.
I think that excellent work and learning, does not start with answers, but always questions. Here are some of the things that help guide my career.
What is the vision for the work that I am doing and how am I making that vision come true?
If I meet you, and you are in a leadership position, this is a question that I am asking you right away. We can easily say things like “I want students to be engaged”, but what does that really mean and look like. Does it mean that they are engaged in curriculum that they sometimes wouldn’t care about otherwise? Even when you talk about the notion of “vision”, it is about looking to the future, not only what is happening now. Can you articulate what your vision is and the steps you are doing to get there? A great leader can hold a vision yet break it down into smaller steps to make it achievable for others.
How am I building capacity and connecting others in this position?
Great leaders create other great leaders. If your role is all about creating a dependence upon yourself, then what happens after you leave? When I think about this notion, I envision almost a “pyramid scheme” of leadership where you are creating leaders in your area on a large basis, not simply developing one other person. For example, if you are a principal that develops great leadership in only your assistant principal, what happens if they leave? The one person you have developed is now gone and what true capacity is still within the building. Leaders should create leaders with an exponential vision. Each leader you develop hopefully will develop several more, ultimately connecting and building a larger much capacity within your organization. Sometimes it is imperative that when you are the “lead” in an area in your school, that you defer people to others to show the capacity that is being built.
What will be my “fingerprint” after I leave?
Developing leadership is only one component of leadership. Stephen Covey talks about great leadership being based on character (how people see you) and credibility (the value you bring to your organization). To show credibility, especially in the area of education, it is imperative that you lead by example, as well as work with students. How can you lead in education if you don’t understand those that you serve? It is also imperative to never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself (character).
Sometimes this fingerprint is developed by continuously communicating vision through both actions and words. When leadership is developed in others, that “fingerprint” will also spread. What will be your legacy after you leave?
When you leave any position, the hope is that people will miss you, but ultimately if you think about these questions and take action, your impact should continue to thrive.