The Elements of Nuanced Leadership

We all know that effective leadership is a hallmark of successful schools.  And it's easy to agree that leadership is absolutely essential to successful change efforts.

But what does that really look like?  In the work that I have done with schools to this point, I've developed some insights that paint a more nuanced view of leadership and the behaviors necessary for successful and meaningful change.

To no one's surprise (hopefully), leadership has to be exhibited by both administrators and teachers.  That makes sense.  But I want to offer a different picture of how this unpacks.

Beyond the typical leadership expectations for administrators, I have found these qualities to be absolutely essential when seeking meaningful change:

  • Administrators must exhibit persistence, resilience, and unwavering commitment to the change effort.  Be open to modification and changes if necessary, but don't give up.  
  • They must have a directional focus on the task at hand, and not be misled by trends, the expectations of timelines, the latest keynoter, the voices and actions of individuals wishing to derail the effort, and other potentially competing initiatives.

Beyond administrative leadership, an initiative must have teachers that exhibit the following leadership qualities:

  • Teachers must act as a champions and advocates for the initiative.  Without a group of teachers that will champion the initiative with their peers and with the school community, just never mind.  
  • Teachers must be willing to accept some level of vulnerability with their peers, students and parents.  They must develop a willingness for exploration and the stamina and confidence for trial, error, and iteration in the face of system inertia and past practice. And admins have to support this (see unwavering commitment above).

In addition to these qualities, there must be system urgency for getting this done, whatever that might be.  Urgency is a an extremely powerful motivational force for action, and without it, initiatives can lack the focus and the necessary energy and momentum required for a successful process and result.  

It's a real challenge to move a school or school district in a different direction.  A real challenge.  Schools are complex entities, bound by years of institutional practice and cultures that resist change.  In the end, and to overcome this, a deeper and more nuanced focus on the specific leadership behaviors associated with both teachers and administrators is necessary if change is to be realized.