We know that effective educational leaders play a vital role in a school’s success. Both the academic community and the public make judgments about schools when we look at key factors including student enrollment, attendance, retention, satisfaction, and achievement. We also look at the quality of teachers, and how long those teachers stay in the school. If we pay close attention, we can spot effective educational leaders pretty quickly.
The Primary Role of Educational Leaders
Most of the time, when we think of academic leaders we think about cutting edge curriculum and instructional methods. We think about a well-stocked technology lab or about the latest press release about an innovative program. However, educational educational leaders play a different primary role.
An educational leader motivates and inspires others. He or she models research-based methods and consistently uses ethics and integrity when making decisions. A real leader consciously works to facilitate leadership development in others. In addition, true educational leaders work with faculty and other staff to create a vision for the future, develop a strategic plan, and set high but attainable expectations.
Leadership vs. Management
There’s a difference between management and leadership. Typically, managers oversee a specific department, or a specific project. It’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure that department or that project is successful. Managers are accountable to a leader. In the case of P-12 schools, examples of managers would be a science department chair or a technology coordinator. In higher education, managers often carry the title of department chair, online learning director, and the like.
A leader must be an effective manager, but from a macro level. A leader is the point person to drive the institution’s vision, mission, and strategic goals. He or she is often the “face” of the school, meeting with the public, potential donors, the press, or politicians. A leader must be able to see the big picture while at the same time have a working knowledge of the details. However, delving too much into the weeds of a project can cause unexpected problems. When leaders micromanage departments or projects, it signals a lack of trust to managers; it breeds confusion and suspicion and ultimately reduces efficiency and success. Leaders hire the right people and then trust them to get the job done.
The Absolutes: 8 Essential Skills All Effective Educational Leaders Must Have
All educational leaders must have some essential skills in order to be successful:
The 4 Cs
- An effective leader must be truly committed to academic excellence. By setting high expectations for ethical practice and academic outcomes, a leader can inspire others to achieve great things.
- An effective leader must be an exceptional communicator, both verbally and in written form. It’s not enough to have great ideas—one must be able to communicate them to others to have those ideas come to fruition.
- An effective leader must be competent. We cannot all be experts in everything, but if we are to lead others, we must have a solid command of the subject matter or the field. Educational leaders must stay current with relevant literature, research, patterns, and trends.
- An effective leader must have confidence. It’s difficult to lead others when we don’t communicate that we truly believe the path being taken is the right one.
The Last 4: No Catchy Title, But Just As Important
- An effective leader must be an exceptional listener. When one person is doing all the talking, he or she rarely learns much from others in the room. By actively and purposefully listening to others, a leader shows respect to others; gains a better understanding of a given issue; receives suggestions for tackling a problem; and builds a stronger sense of trust.
- An effective leader must ensure proper recognition of managers and other team members for their contributions, particularly in the context of a significant or particularly challenging project. It’s necessary to motivate and inspire, but we must also show appreciation and recognition.
- An effective leader must be fair. Showing favoritism, even the suggestion of it, can quickly diminish team morale and motivation. A leader must treat all members of the team equally.
- An effective leader must be prepared to make tough decisions. There are times when institutions must face difficult budget shortfalls and steps must be taken to reduce expenditures. A prime example is the COVID-19 crisis we’re living through right now. There are also times when one or more staff members are not performing up to expectations. An effective leader must be willing and able to make the tough decisions that may not always be popular. However, when leaders fail to make those tough decisions, they’re not doing the job they were hired to do.
The Bottom Line
Whether we’re talking about P-12 schools or higher education, success depends on leadership. We must have powerhouse educational leaders who are committed to academic excellence. In times like these it’s essential to our nation’s future.
About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Top Graphic Credit: topleadersinc.com