The In-Between Leader

I was lucky enough to attend a PD session on leadership at our board’s recent Lead Your Own Learning PD day and this video was shared. I must say that I loved it instantly and was able to relate in so many ways.

The basic premise it illustrates about leadership is the importance of the first and second followers in getting a movement started. I could go on and on about that and talk about the struggles with getting a movement together, or about the different techniques used for motivation but I think for this post I will go in a different direction.

I see the real challenge of being a principal in being the “in-between leader”. What I mean by this is that there are times that you feel like the lone crazy guy dancing on the hill, but the truth is that if you are that too much then people will grow tired of that quite quickly. While I think a staff is engaged and inspired by innovation and new ideas, they also look to their principal for stability and reassurance. This means that I cannot always be the guy just trying new stuff. I cannot be so outside the box that my staff feels disconnected from me. This is a real danger I think and a line that I dance regularly.

Now I would not describe myself as an outside the box thinker. In fact I would say that I struggle often to see or understand the abstract. This is probably why I marvel so much at truly creative people. To be able to envision something that does not and perhaps has never existed, is incredible to me. No, when it comes to my educational views, I would say that I am not outside the box; I just think we need a whole new box! We need to completely overhaul what we think is important and at the essence of what we do. We have to, in Will Richardson’s words “Rethink school”.

While this may be what I believe should happen, and hope to one day realize, I have to understand that I still have a school to run. There are a lot of people, with different versions of school in their minds that need a sense of continuity and stability in their building, and often look toward my office for that. I cannot be the lone guy on the hill all the time because not everyone is ready to join in. They are at different points in their journey and to isolate everyone who “isn’t ready to dance” would be foolish and frankly cruel. I need to be there for the everyday as well, to support and assist as needed in what my staff and students are doing. That requires inside the box thinking at times and I don’t think that should be seen as a bad thing.

Now that being said, I think a good or even great leader has to be “willing to dance” as well. It is a tempting trap to become the manager of the school. To fill in all the reports and handle the books and see yourself as nothing more than a facilitator. In fact this will cause the fewest waves and have often created some of the most “popular” leaders. The people that some will look back on and say how much they loved that person because they were quiet and did not rock the boat too much. They were always there for us and did not push us too much. This may lead to popularity and will certainly decrease the number of ulcers, but I don’t really see that as a leader. Like I said earlier, that is a manager or a valet. A leader I think needs to challenge the status quo and cause the people they lead to look at things in a different way. An educational leader needs to do this especially because the educational landscape has remained so disturbingly unchanged for so long, that leadership is, by definition, an office of change. Without that, you are just managing a truly outdated factory.

This balance or “in-between” model is the dilemma I often find myself in and I would predict that it will be what I strive for, for the rest of my career.

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