Leadership is taking on a very different look in schools everywhere; and if it’s not, it should be. As a matter of fact, school administration plays a very different role than it did when I first became a principal in the 1990’s. The culture of the time pretty much told me that I was an island unto myself, unilaterally charged with making decisions that I believed were in the best interest of the school community and individual students. My staff, whether they agreed or not, were expected to support my decisions and I was usually credited with school successes or blamed for failures. Even if I wanted to work more collaboratively with stakeholders, it was a foreign concept to most. Teachers mostly stayed behind the safety of their classroom doors, students followed a structured schedule and detailed set of rules, and parents volunteered at the school only if they were invited to do so.
Over the last few years, with the education landscape quickly changing, I’ve come to realize that my role as a school leader is less about leading by myself and more about developing a culture were distributed leadership can blossom and thrive. Through credibility and trust, leaders must enlist school communities in joining them on a journey toward a shared vision for their school. And letting go of control is an important part of that. Leadership can and should happen at all levels of any system and the formal leader sometimes needs to just get out of the way and let it happen. So, in trying to practice what I preach, I’m supporting my teachers, parents, and students in taking on leadership roles. The formula, as I see it, is really quite simple.
1. Stop saying ‘yes, but…’; and start just saying ‘yes.’
2. Show others that you trust them.
3. Value a culture of risk-taking and learning from failure.
4. Collaborate ‘with’ others and not ‘to’ others.
5. Smile, encourage, and have fun every day.
As the distributed leadership model takes hold in my school, I am encouraged with the number of innovative new practices that are emerging. There is a sustained positive energy and everyone seems to be happier. I am seeing in action, Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and Daniel Pink’s motivation 3.0. In many ways I feel like I’m just going along for the ride.
Another spin-off is that I’ve had a lot less “managing” to do and therefore can join in the exciting new learning that is taking place every day. My job is easier and more relevant than it has ever been.
I once read that the best legacy of any leader is to have left many leaders behind when they move on. I now understand the importance of this statement.