Reflections on 21st Century Leadership

I have spent considerable time over the past year reflecting upon my leadership capacity as well as leadership in general. So when Scott McLeod sponsored Leadership Day 2010, I thought it would provide me with an opportunity to share a few of my own thoughts on what educational leadership means in the 21st century.

1.  Transparency. It’s easy to say you are a transparent leader. A previous educational leader for whom I used to work for was famous for starting sentences with, “In the interest of transparency…” which only made me wonder what thoughts he had that were NOT in the interest of transparency.  He was good at saying what needed to be said at the time to look as though he was being transparent, but those who really knew him, knew that there was more that was not said and his motives for transparency were simply politically motivated.  They were cowardly actions designed to only make him look good.

A noble leader looks at transparency not as a series of single calculated acts, but as routine behavior. Transparent leaders are not only uncompromisingly public with their thoughts, motives, and vulnerabilities, but as learning leaders they are transparent in how they learn. They allow their followers to not only learn with them, but allow them to teach them as well.  Transparent leaders are as steadfast in their willingness to learn as they are their core beliefs, and to do that, one of their core beliefs are dynamic and not steadfast.

2.  21st century ed leaders have to learn how to follow at times.  Education is more complex than ever.  State and federal  mandates, local politics, the rapid advancements in technology, and the growing demands of students and families for customized and personalized schooling are just a few of the changes that Ed leaders must confront on a daily basis.  Couple that with the ease at which a network of co-leaders can be built and it’s irresponsible of Ed leaders to think that that they have all the answers. As such, great Ed leaders learn from others, find friends to share beliefs with, and seek experts from whom they can get answers.  21st century leadership requires that one understands this fundamental belief, “I may know more about my school community than anyone else, but I am not an expert in everything, and because if that I need to seek out those experts and follow them.”. And by “follow” I mean, study, learn from, unlearn from, connect with, call, ask questions of and seek advice from.

3.  Last, but certainly not least, great Ed leaders distribute their leadership. I had dinner recently with Cathy Brophy.  She is a technology director in school district here in New Hampshire. She told me that she met one of her professional goals this year when two of the teachers in her district presented at the Christa McAullife Conference, New England’s largest ed tech conference. Understand that it wasn’t her goal to present, it was her goal for one of her teachers to present. That was the evidence that she needed to show herself that she had distributed her leadership. Her legacy as a learning leader is going to be carried by those that follow her.

When it gets right down to it, leadership is not a solitary process.  Great leaders learn from, teach to, connect with and celebrate the successes of others.  They understand that they cannot lead by themselves, instead they know their leadership is the result of a collection of many others, all leaders in and of themselves.

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4 Responses to Reflections on 21st Century Leadership

  1. I think that shift to leaders being able to follow others is tricky. They are there in that capacity because they see themselves as vision-people, right? So, to say, I am the learner here and the follower … that can be a bit of a stretch for principals and, even more so, superintendents. How many are willing to turn to a classroom teacher and say, “You are the expert in this field of education … now teach me”?
    Thanks for the post

  2. tbaldasaro says:

    First, thanks for your reply. I agree that it is a stretch for principals and superintendents to be followers, that is why I’m not convinced we have a lot of good ones out there. The fact of the matter is that learning leaders often get so caught up in the day to day operations of their school/district that they often don’t have the capacity to be leaders in every aspect of education, thus the need to distribute leadership across an organization and not hold it hostage at the top.

  3. Damian says:

    Tony, I’m with you on this. I don’t think it’s necessarily the job that makes it difficult for principals/superintendents to follow; I think it’s more of a mindset. Not all administrators are leaders, and not all leaders are administrators. I actually addressed the importance of teacher leadership (and admins demonstrating leadership by knowing when to follow) in my Leadership Day 2010 post.

  4. Pingback: #leadershipday10: the complete list : Darcy Moore's Blog

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