If all goes well, by the end of today we’ll know who will be the next President of the United States.
This season’s presidential campaign was hard fought and, at times, downright nasty. But regardless how we got here, the question for voters remains the same: Who will be the best leader?
Parents and board members are often forced to ask the same question of their local school leaders. But what makes an effective leader, exactly? In an article in Inc. magazine, writer and business consultant Scott Mautz posits that a leading indicator is the ability to make decisions, even if those decisions don’t always turn out to be right.
“As a leader, you don’t want to be defined by the things you didn’t do,” writes Mautz. “Unfortunately, there’s plenty of Monday morning quarterbacks who will take pot shots at you for the plays you didn’t run.”
School leaders face regular criticism from students, parents, and community and school board members. When you’re in that position, blame is inevitable. But fear of disapproval or criticism is no reason to shy away from action. That approach only ensures failure.
Mautz lists 11 “inactions” that can damage a leader’s reputation. Here’s a few that all school leaders should understand and avoid:
Not making a decision
Your community hired you for a reason: to make smart, well-informed decisions on behalf of students and families. But there’s only one thing worse than a bad decision—no decision at all.
Nobody bats a thousand.
That doesn’t mean you should make rash decisions either. Focus on gathering as much information as time allows on a particular issue, ask for feedback from your staff and community at large, and leverage that combined insight to make the best choice that you can.
Not responding to conflict in a timely manner
A good decision is not only well-informed, it’s also well-timed.
When members of your team disagree on the best path forward, the discussion can quickly become unhealthy and unhelpful. This toxicity negatively affects the timeliness of your decision.
Healthy debate is, well, healthy. But, as Mautz points out, it’s important to not let that debate become so convoluted and drawn out that it stifles your ability to set a clear strategy and path forward.
“Stress and ill will builds as both sides spiral into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” he writes (sound familiar?). “So cut off disrespectful behavior, deflate overly emotional behavior, and channel unproductive passion into high-energy, team-oriented solutions.”
Not informing your staff or community when problems arise
You’ve developed an important strategy for solving a significant problem in your school district.
But does your staff and your community understand the thought process that went into that decision, or how you arrived at it?
Keep staff, parents, students, and community members invested in the school decision-making process by constantly giving them updates and asking for their feedback.
Even if they ultimately disagree with your decision, an informed community and staff will appreciate the fact that you made an effort to include them in the process.
Not connecting, on a personal level, with your community and staff
Informing staff and the public about new initiatives is incredibly important.
But true engagement isn’t just about making decisions. It’s about having a real conversation with the people you serve and lead. They want to know that you care.
“People can read a lack of compassion and warmth a mile away,” says Mautz, “and they’ll stay a mile away when they sense it. So make the effort—it will make a difference.”
You may not be able to talk individually with each parent or staff member but creating systems for hearing their concerns, and acting on their feedback demonstrates that you care, and that you’re invested in their success.
As a school leader, what advice do you have for taking action? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for more ways to engage your school community this year? Bookmark our section on community engagement.