The other day Flipboard exposed me to this gem written by Nicolas Cole titled The Brutal Truth About Why Being a Leader is So Hard. The premise of the article, as the title implies, is the inherent difficulties associated with any leadership position. Cole goes on to explain the following:
"What's difficult about leadership is that nobody ever sits you down and "teaches" you what being a real leader is all about. There's no class in early education that defines leadership. Peers in group projects tend to label leaders as "overachievers" (and not in a good way). In college, leadership is reduced down to who is going to talk the most during a presentation. And even on sports teams, the leader is usually the best player--and wears a letter on his or her jersey as a trophy of their accomplishments."
His synopsis really resonated with me. It is difficult to adequately prepare any leader for the challenges he or she will face as well as the decisions that will have to be made. There are so many unique variables that just cannot be taught. Learning about how to prepare a budget is entirely different than creating one on your own when all the unique challenges are factored in. It’s tough work knowing that difficult decisions will have to be made at times, including letting staff go. Making decisions in time of crisis is also a topic that is regularly explored in leadership courses. The solutions addressed always sound great in theory, but their application typically isn’t very practical.
Looks can be, and are, deceiving. Talking the talk has to be accompanied with walking the walk. That’s the hard part. It’s relatively easy for people to tell others what they should do. However, true leaders go through the challenging work of showing how it can be done. Here is some sage advice that I learned long ago as a new principal who started drinking the digital and innovation Kool-Aid long ago – “Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing or have not done yourself.” Modeling is one of the most impactful elements of leadership. It builds trust leading to powerful relationships.
Accomplishments and success are earned through the actions that are taken that result in evidence of improvement. Leaders know that it is not the work of one person that moves an organization in a positive direction, but rather the collective efforts of all. The premise of every decision and action has to be geared towards the “We” instead of “I”. It’s not about coming up with all the ideas, but helping people implement not only the ones you develop, but also the ones that they develop. Leading from the front is an outdated style that doesn’t foster shared ownership.
It’s our experiences that help all of us to develop into better leaders coupled with the support we get from colleagues. From experience, we learn that trying to be right all the time only makes the job exponentially harder. Work inside out to make leading a little easier by focusing on the why, how, and what in that order. Make the time to hone your communication skills, as you will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Mastering this art is no easy task and takes constant practice and reflection in order to improve.
Regardless of your position leading is hard, yet gratifying work. Keep an open mind, regularly reflect, pursue learning opportunities that push your thinking, and understand that you will never have all the answers (which is quite ok). It is also helpful to be flexible. I leave you with some more thoughts from Nicholas Cole that might just build greater leadership capacity in you and others:
"True leadership is the ability to communicate and effectively reach each and every person you work with, in the way that works best for them.
It's the ability to be flexible.
When everyone else is stressed, you're calm.
When everyone else is out of gas, you inject more fuel.
When everyone else doesn't know what to do next, you lead by example.
When someone has an issue, you work with them and listen to them on a personal level."
Stealing from Ghandi, be the change you wish to see in education. Just know that any change journey is not an easy one.