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popularity get in the way

Leadership Over Popularity: Balancing Priorities for School Leaders

We all want to be liked—whether or not we want to admit it.

At home, with friends, or in the office, knowing people like us gives us a sense of acceptance and confidence.

For school leaders, it can be natural to seek out popularity.

In a world where most superintendent tenures last only three years, school leaders are looking for any way to shore up staff and community support.

But making decisions for popularity’s sake is no way to lead, says veteran principal Eric Sheninger in a recent blog post.

While it’s harder to attain, respect is much more valuable to school leaders than popularity.

Action vs. words
As Sheninger points out in his article, when he was a young principal it took him a while to understand the difference between popularity and good leadership.

“I saw being popular with my staff as a way to overcompensate for my young age, and, in turn, gain the respect of a veteran staff,” he writes. “Needless to say, all this did during those initial years was help to sustain the status quo.”

But it’s a leader’s job to challenge the status quo—to take input from your community, to identify new paths your schools should take, and to lead your schools toward new goals.

It’s a matter of leading by doing, instead of just paying lip service, says Sheninger.

Leadership is about action. It is not a popularity contest. As leaders in our respective positions, it is important to ensure popularity doesn’t get in the way of effectively meeting the needs of all learners… We must be willing to make tough decisions and take on the resistance wherever it lies, knowing full well that these actions will diminish our popularity.

Leading through engagement
The bottom line: Popularity shouldn’t be the goal of any good school leader.

But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take other people’s opinions into account.

The best school leaders understand the difference between listening to your community just to appease it, and listening to your community to gather helpful, useful information.

Do you ask your community for input before making a major decision? If not, you’re missing an important opportunity.

Whether it’s in public meetings, on social media, or via online forums, the best school leaders invite feedback before taking action.

And once you’ve chosen a path forward on any given issue, it’s up to you to communicate your reasoning to employees, parents, and students.

No decision is perfect. And not everyone will like the choices you make. But when your community feels involved in the decision-making process and understands the reasons behind your decision, they’ll be more likely to respect it—even if they disagree.

And that respect is much more powerful than fleeting popularity will ever be.

How do you prioritize respect over popularity? Tell us in the comments.

Want to invite the community into your decision-making process? Start by gathering feedback.