I have been using the following idea recently at the end of my email messages: “Leading is building collaborative energy, listening, asking questions, discerning, and helping groups move forward with a purposeful, shared vision.”
There are six main points in that statement about leading, perhaps too many to digest in one quick reading. However, here is an attempt to define those six characteristics of leadership in a summary fashion. A longer discussion can provide an opportunity to explore these notions in greater depth but let these stimulate some further thought and perhaps some exchange of ideas and experiences.
First is building collaborative energy. Everyone is talking about collaborative models of leadership with precious little time given to the energy required and the synergy that results. When the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts, you can at least sense that you may be headed in the right direction. The leader’s job is to marshall and harness the energy of one’s self and your colleagues with whom you are collaborating and your role is to keep that energy focused on the issues that merit your attention and focus. Of course, you may have to decide which ones rise to the top and which are less important and why.
Second is listening, taking the time to be fully present with another person or a group to the extent that they know they are being heard. Feedback helps the others know that you have indeed listened carefully and attentively to their ideas, to their concerns, to their suggestions and to their contributions to solutions to any shared problems. Whether or not you have achieved consensus will be revealed as you start to move forward later. It is better to have the disagreements earlier rather than later.
The third characteristic is asking questions. As you know from having been in the role of a teacher, sometimes the best response to a question is not the answer but another question that is designed to take both of you farther and deeper into the issue. There you may find more specific and concrete details that heretofore were undisclosed. That gives you a greater likelihood of a better response, one that is more comprehensive and thorough. And that will be more satisfying than the quick and easy answer.
Discerning is often defined as “keen insight and good judgment” and yet those are somewhat relative terms. Understanding what needs to be done may well be the first step while having a plan to get a job done is equally important. There can be tons of understanding with little or no resolution. Making good choices that are reasonable and realistic with attainable goals shows a measure of good judgment when assessing projects that are deemed important, even critical to success.
Helping groups move forward and not simply be content with the status quo means that you will often have to become the “captain at the helm” and give directions and instructions to the crew. Each person on the team has specific contributions to make to the entire operation and the leader is very much like the director of the symphony, putting all the parts together and making it look and sound terrific. However, it is not just an appearance or an impression but about the reality and how it plays ouy and how it wears over time. In the final analysis you can measure progress.
Finally, using your mission, vision and values’ statements, you must demonstrate in your own actions some kind of purposeful engagement that is both visible and palpable. People will take their cues from you in terms of what you share with them as being important and how that contributes to making your school community a stronger, better place. And then, they are much more willing to be an active participant and share some responsbility for helping the organization move forward.