xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: What is leadership? Now that is a leading question.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What is leadership? Now that is a leading question.

What is leadership? Well, that is a leading question?
The WA Primary Principals Association has always promoted leadership as a major function of the principalship. Many of its excellent workshops and annual conferences have leadership as their main focus.
Today it would seem that principals and deputies are more in need of leadership qualities than ever before. 
In earlier times school leaders were confident in the knowledge that their District Directors and significant decision makers at district and head office had all had practical experience as teachers and principals. Principals were confident that this systemic school experience would bring a high level of understanding and support to the many issues that school administrators faced on a daily basis. This is no longer the case.
These days schools are operating under District Directors who, in some cases, have little or no practical experience of primary schools. At the same time schools have become increasingly independent of “The Department” and now carry out much of the data processing previously done by Staffing and Salaries Branch. 
More and more responsibility has devolved to schools and Principals are finding that if a problem exists they are the ones who are expected to fix it, not someone in District Office or the Department.
So leadership in this bright and increasingly independent brave new world is vital.
But what is leadership? How is it defined? Well, do not look in the latest edition of Australia's Macquarie Dictionary for a concise definition. There is none. There are definitions of “Lead” and “Leader” but none on leadership. So in order to become Australian of the Year, Citizen of the Month or perhaps Person of the Day, I feel it is my duty to make up for Macquarie's serious omission and provide some definitions of Leadership.
Shakespeare said that, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them”. It is like that with leadership. 
Sometimes leaders can have doubts about their ability to lead or even why they wanted to be leaders in the first place. “It's hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in crocodiles” is one anonymous leader's view of that situation.
Others are overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks before them. 
As U.S. Educator, author and motivational speaker, Steve Farber, has observed, quite brilliantly in my opinion, “Leadership is a scary thing. That is why so few people want to stand up to the plate. There are many people who want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with a 2 000 pound bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was just to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar.” I've been to a few parent meetings and felt just like that matador.
Farber also emphasises the need for leaders to be energetic promoters of vision and enthusiasm. “We have all worked with people who are entirely lacking in energy or are walking black holes of human existence; they suck energy out of whomever they walk into. So the litmus test for all of us is, ‘Do I generate more energy when I walk into a room or when I walk out of it?'” Good question.
Napoleon, who knew a thing or two about leadership, said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Another noted warrior, U.S. General Omar Bradley, said, “The greatest leader in the world could never win a campaign unless he understood the men he had to lead.”
Ah, yes, knowing the troops you will lead is very important. As our great friend, Anonymous, once said, “Hire Rembrandt to do the painting and don't tell him how to paint.”  Or, as my father used to say, “It's no good buying a dog and barking yourself.”
One thing we do know about Leadership is that it is very different from Management. This was made abundantly clear by noted British journalist and author, Russell H. Ewing, who said:
“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence.
A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes.
A boss knows all, a leader asks questions.
A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.
A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”
So obviously, good leaders not only have to enthuse, they must also get the best out of the people they lead. Jim Collins, respected author of several books on leadership, including “How the Mighty Fail” says that, “Leaders who go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who”. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats...first the people, then the direction.” This view of leadership offers hope to principals of Independent Public Schools who may now exercise a greater degree of control over who is on or off the bus and in what direction it is travelling.
It may come as a great surprise to some to learn that the Vatican applauds the increasing trend for schools to shake off the shackles of departmental bureaucracy and trek boldly forth where no school has gone before. A Papal Encyclical states that, “It is an injustice, and a grave disturbance of the right order, for a large and higher organization to abrogate to itself functions which can be performed more efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.” No, that is not Docker’s Coach, Ross Lyon, talking to Aaron Sandilands about Hayden Ballentyne's role, it is a Papal Encyclical. It may have been referring to totalitarian states but there it is, in infallible black and white.
Perhaps how to be a successful school leader is best answered in the negative. Herbert Bayard Swope was a famed U.S. Editor and journalist who won the first Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1917. Among other things he said, “I cannot tell you the secret of success, but I can tell you the reason for failure...try to please everybody.”
Some of us learn from hard experience that if you try to please everybody you end up pleasing nobody. A good leader listens to advice, but ultimately it is the leader who makes the decision based on what is right, not on who will or will not like it. 
As Buddha said over 2000 years ago, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense”. 
 Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the U.S.A., advised those who would lead, “That in matters of style, go with the current. In matters of principle stay with the rocks.” 
As usual Shakespeare succinctly summed it up, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”
I first came to the principalship at Donnybrook District High School far too many moons ago. In my youthful exuberance to make the world a better place I may indeed have started out by trying to please everybody. I certainly did not want to appear as “a walking black hole of human existence.” 
Fortunately, Margaret Forrest, a very wise and generous teacher, took me aside one day and said, “Noel, if you want to be the leader of the band you have to turn your back on the crowd and face the music.”
Over the years I have found this to be excellent advice and in line with the leadership philosophy of one of my favourite writers who suggested:
“Be who you are
and say what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter
and those who matter don't mind” (Dr Seuss).

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