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Are You an Exemplary Leader?

By Debbie McFalone, Ph.D., Summer Leadership Institute Featured Speaker

DashBoard, April 19, 2017

“Leadership matters. . .and it matters more in times of uncertainty than in times of stability.” Don’t those words seem important as we think about our school districts today? The quote is from university professors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, whose 30 years of research about skillful leadership provides thought-provoking wisdom. As school board members strive to perform at their highest level of productivity and skill, we can learn a lot from what’s being written about what exemplary leaders do!

During the spring each year, many school boards review their progress as a leadership team over the past year. How might they reflect about their leadership in a way that’s most helpful? Kouzes and Posner would suggest that leaders begin by assessing themselves on the very first, most important criteria of exemplary leadership: trustworthiness. Our finest leaders say what they mean, mean what they say and do what they say they’re going to do. Their integrity defines them and it is their legacy. Dr. Adolph Brown tells us, “A reflective leader is an effective leader,” so some board members may find it helpful to pause and think honestly about the level of trust currently in their schools. Are board members modeling the highest level of integrity in their actions?

Here’s a picture for you. . .in our best school districts, a high level of trust looks like this:

  • When there are challenges or difficulties, people support and problem solve together, rather than being part of a culture of blame
  • When things are going well, people share their best ideas openly so that all teachers and all students can benefit

The end result of this high-trust culture? Student achievement rises because of both of these types of intentional actions on the part of adults. Shaping this positive trusting culture is well within our control if we choose to do it!

As we think about being skillful leaders during these turbulent times, Kouzes and Posner would also have us take a look at these five leadership practices:

  • Skillful leaders model the way: They “walk the talk,” and treat people the way they’d like to be treated. They know their guiding principles, and they consistently act on them.
  • Skillful leaders inspire a shared vision: They have clarity about their direction and communicate that consistent message in many different ways.
  • Skillful leaders challenge the process: They are not afraid to ask, “What might happen if. . .” or “Have we ever tried. . .” or “What evidence do we have that what we’re currently doing is in the best interest of our students?”
  • Skillful leaders enable others to act: They give clear direction, coupled with a blend of support and accountability to bring out the best in their people.
  • Skillful leaders encourage the heart: They know the incredible power of specific, sincere praise offered either in person or in writing, and understand that people are motivated by warmth and collaboration.

Perhaps these practices of exemplary leaders may serve as a point of conversation with your board. I look forward to continuing this topic with you at the MASB gathering at Mission Point in August. Till then, please know with certainty: Your leadership matters, and it matters today!

Let your courage shine.

Debbie McFalone is a leadership consultant who has worked with more than 50 school districts, ISDs and leadership organizations across Michigan. She is the author of the Leadership Matters and the Leverage Leadership programs at MEMSPA, studied for four years with the Harvard Change Leadership Group and has spoken nationally on the topic of Difficult Conversations. Her doctoral dissertation was on courage and integrity in the lives of skillful leaders. She can be followed on Twitter @debbiemcfalone, #LiveWellLeadStrong.

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