“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader.”
(Sinek, Leaders Eat Last)
Leadership in education today is at a crossroads. Part of the challenge is due to a shift in demographics that has seen many veteran leaders reach the age of retirement and a new generation assuming key roles with less experience than their predecessors had when they moved into the role. Peter Drucker (1996) defined a leader as “someone with followers. Without followers there can be no leader.”
The challenge that has always faced leaders is summarized in the reason why the person became a leader in the first place. Beyond the requisite skillset lies the reason why. Was it to assist others in reaching their potential? Or was it to highlight your own personal skill and reap the benefits from that?
There is a difference between being a leader and being a survivor.
Leaders serve others, but that does not mean they are beholden to others. They work with the intent to create a collective commitment to ensure that the school or district becomes the place everyone envisioned it could be. Survivors are self-serving leaders who make their priority clear. It’s about them, maintaining their current job, or getting the next job.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about leadership, working with leaders wanting to hone their skills, and in the company of future leaders. A lot of the dialogue brought me back to the quote above from Simon Sinek in his last book. What is it about leadership that separates a leader from a survivor? We’ve all seen both, regardless of whether you are an educator (as I know many of the followers of this blog are) or lead in your profession.
Leaders are driven by responsibility and the capacity to assist others to reach their full potential. Survivors are interested in self, the trappings of the role, and in directing others to get better. The essence of leadership is distilled in the fine line between courage and self-doubt— courage to take bold actions and engender collective commitment balanced by self-doubt that causes the leader to continually reflect on decisions made, and adjust them as conditions indicate.
True leadership is also the response to this question: How many leaders did you leave behind?
Those interested in leading are in it for the long haul and to produce success for others while those interested in surviving are there for personal gain either in the form of holding on to a current, cherished position or the desire to take the next job. Successful organizations become just that by having leaders who have created collective commitments and who work with others to confront the challenges. The leader recognizes the messiness that sometimes accompanies progress or a shift from “the way we do things around here” to the “way things need to be done to grow.” They aren’t troubled by confronting the challenges, as they know the job is bigger than them.
If leading is just a function of an individual and the organization is lost once that person moves on, it’s more likely you’ve been led by a survivor in leader’s clothing.