Many times in my life, I have been sure I knew something, only to find out I was dead wrong. I guess that’s part of life; growing up, learning about the real world, having your assumptions challenged and often changed. When I got into education, I thought I knew what made a good educational leader. In fact, I tried to formulate a checklist of what makes a good educational leader as I progressed through my career, as I was certain one day I would fill a leadership role. I made that list, but I find that list continually changing the longer I am in education and with each leader I encounter.
I have always alluded to the principal in my building or the superintendent of my division as the captain of a ship. I have always said that I need to believe in the direction that the captain is taking us. For the most part, this metaphor rings true for me, as I believe that it is often the leader in a building or division that sets the direction. In the past I have felt the need to be inspired and motivated by the path my leader set for me.
Today, this characteristic of a leader is important to me, but is not nearly the most important one. I am finding more and more that the most important aspect of an educational leader to me is someone who opens doors and clears the path. I want to work for someone who inspires me to take risks, to try new things and to explore ideas I believe can be successful. I look now to work with people who very rarely say no, and only do so when every possible option has been exhausted. To me, the best leader in a changing educational world is someone who has your back when you want to explore and removes any barriers they can. As far as metaphors go, Educational Leader as Captain of the Ship is now being replaced with Educational Leader as Doorman.
As the education system changes, so to will the models for successful leadership within it. I hope that educational leaders of the future recognize risk taking, action research, continual learning and professional growth as necessary components of success in any building or division. Recognizing of course means less control, less top-down management, and more of a support and guiding role for our leaders. Less saying “No” and more finding ways to make “Yes” the default. I hope our leaders do less of steering the ship and more of opening of doors.