Leadership. Is what we learned about it dated when navigating work and life in the 2020s? And how do we mentor leadership in others, especially when they are finding themselves in the forefront of a public crisis. This includes principals, teachers and school board members – all those who are now on the front lines and who were never trained for it.
Ahhhh, so many questions.
First, let’s take it from the top. Leadership theory is not dated. No. If anything, it evolves. But before that, we need to look a bit deeper into our personal leadership toolbox for skills that may be rusty or overlooked. Because (let’s be honest) some days are about trying to get through the day. I get it. We all do.
Second, we need to do more to develop leaders at all levels. Especially among board members. These are often individuals who ran for the board with altruistic intent only to find themselves ill-equipped for contentious public meetings.
So, to learn more, I reached out to one of Ohio’s top leaders: Dan Leffingwell, superintendent of Noble Local Schools and the 2022 Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) Ohio Superintendent of the Year. Why? Because he’s a great guy, a fabulous educator and leader, and he earned the award for good reason. So, why not.
Here are the top skills he said everyone in the organization should work to develop.
- Engage in “anticipatory leadership.” As Dan relayed the story to me, former NHL player Wayne Gretzy was once asked what earned him the title, “The Great One.” His response: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Whether it is a contentious board meeting or determining what education should look like going forward, Dan notes that as a leader, it’s your job to be one step ahead. Know how people will react to any given news and then work to correct or direct the narrative – before it becomes a crisis.
- Know your audience and be relatable. Knowing how to read a room is a critical leadership skill, and what works in one community doesn’t always work in another. To be successful, you must understand the priorities of your audience and adjust how you present information based on this knowledge. One example of this is with COVID-19 communication. Noble Schools recognized at the onset of the pandemic that what people most want and need during times of uncertainty is to feel in control of something. Over the last two years, they have worked to give their audience what they need. Whenever they could share news with certainty, even small things, they did it.
- Stay true to your why. As stated so perfectly by Dan, “COVID-19 is a thing: Not the thing,” and is just one example of the challenges you will face as a leader. At the end of the day, it’s the job of our schools to educate students. Every decision made should center around your why–that’s the thing. Focus on the why and keep talking about it with your public.
- Lead within your personality and support others. Being a good leader involves personal awareness, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being open to understanding others’ perspectives.
Leffingwell said, “Not everyone can run to the fire every time, and that’s ok. We need people who can continue to see the big picture and maintain our why.” Good leaders also recognize the strengths of others and support them and guide them. Leadership is not making everyone think and act like you.
Serving as a superintendent is a constant balancing act, but one that’s well worth the reward according to Leffingwell.
BTW, he’s the superintendent of the year for a reason. Check out this great article as to why.
Dan is very active on Twitter and can be found here. In fact, to state it more directly, he has found a way to lead on Twitter. Follow him and you will see how.