One of my favorite parts of the week is co-moderating the West Coast #satchat (#satchatwc). The topics, the collaboration, and insights from other educators from around the world always inspire me. Today’s topic was of particular interest to me because it is one I think about quite a bit – hiring highly effective educational leaders. We talked about the characteristics we look for, the different parts of the interview/hiring processes we find to be most effective and insightful, the types of questions we think are important to ask in an interview etc. What we know is that hiring an educational leader, particularly a school principal, is one of the most important decisions we make, because the bottom line is that leadership matters… a lot!
I’ve read countless books and articles on educational leadership; I have read and embraced a variety of leadership theories and models; I coach, mentor and support educational leaders who serve in a variety roles; and I have held several leadership positions in my career. But what I kept coming back to in my head this morning is the book my husband Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) recently published Teach Like a PIRATE, and I wondered… shouldn’t we also lead like Pirates? If you are not familiar with Dave’s book, he uses the Pirate acronym to describe 6 traits essential to highly effective teaching, and I am convinced that they are also essential traits of highly effective leaders:
Passion – Highly effective leaders are passionate. They know who they are, they know what they love, they know what they stand for, and they bring this with them to work in one way or another everyday. The passion is contagious, and highly effective leaders have a knack for helping those around them ignite their own passions and capitalize on them. I love walking into schools where passion is evident. There is a hard to describe energy that radiates within the walls and around the campus, and it takes a passionate leader to create this.
Immersion – Highly effective leaders are immersed in their work. They roll up their sleeves and they dig in. They are people who work alongside their staff and their community. They have a constant “pulse” of the school because they are always paying attention. They invest time in both the big and small moments of leadership. You are likely to find them immersed in classroom observations and engaged with teachers and teams focused on student learning, but you will also notice them taking time to jumprope with a group of students on the playground, spending a few moments at a table in the cafeteria, reading a favorite book to a room full of kindergarteners, or chatting with a parent volunteer in the hallway. No matter where you find them, you notice that they are fully present and they are invested.
Rapport – Highly effective leaders develop rapport and relationships. They do this with staff, with parents, with students, with community members, with their colleagues, and with their supervisors. They invest the time in getting to know people. They learn about their strengths and where they want to grow. They learn about their passions, their best hopes, their worst fears. And they invest this time with everyone – even those who previous leaders had written off. They embrace opportunities to hear multiple perspectives, and they value the contribution that each person makes to the organization, and they tell them so.
Ask and Analyze – Highly effective leaders ask many thoughtful questions and they are skillful at analyzing all of the data that comes at them. When there are obstacles and challenges they don’t “chalk them up” to anything… they ask probing questions and dig deep to get to the root of the issue, and they actively seek out solutions. They reach out to others, seek advice, and they are hungry for answers. They equally spend time focused on what is going well. They are able to label the actions that took place to make something successful because they know success does not happen by accident. It happens as a result of strategic and intentional decisions. Highly effective leaders are connected, reflective, and they are learners.
Transformation – Highly effective leaders want to make a significant difference, a significant contribution and transform the lives of their students. They have a clear vision about where they want to go and why it is an important journey for people to take with them. They have high expectations and create a healthy sense of urgency around the most important work, and they are skillful in managing and leading change. They know that great schools can change communities and change the lives of generations. They believe in the moral purpose of providing students with an amazing set of educational experiences, they are clear in defining what these are, and they take deliberate steps to get them in place.
Enthusiasm – Highly effective leaders infuse enthusiasm into their work. They “bring it” everyday, and they are committed to being “on” – even on the days they might have to fake it. They are the champions and cheerleaders of their schools and champions and cheerleaders of those who work and learn there. They celebrate successes both big and small. You know enthusiastic leaders when you see them. They are the ones who can bring you up when you are down; they help you re-ignite your fire when it is starting to burn out; they point out how you have contributed and made a difference; they smile; they laugh; they engage; they commit.
While I know the above list may not be an exhaustive one… it sure is a great place to start when looking for a new leader in your system or looking for ways to support the ones you have. It is also a great way to reflect on your own practices as a leader… Do you lead like a PIRATE?