There are a number of ancient misnomers about leadership, but today we’d like to take on three them.
Leadership is exercised exclusively by the leader
God forbid it should happen, but if the school were to go belly up, who’d have to answer for it? The principal, of course. As a leader, you have a tremendous amount of responsibility and will be held accountable for leading (or not leading) your school to success.
However, no principal ever parachuted in from the sky and did it all on his or her own. Principals can’t be everywhere and be everything for everybody. And frankly, they don’t need to be. Staff, students, teachers and parents all have the capacity to lead. Leadership is not, as Linsky and Lawrence, authors of “Adaptive Challenges for School Leadership,” put it, “the exclusive prerogative of people in positions of authority.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Consider some of history’s most extraordinary leaders: King, Mandela, Gandhi, for example. None of these men were formally given authority! None of them changed the world on their own, either.
Leaders are inspirational superheroes
Over the years Hollywood has done a nice job of showing us what super teachers (and principals) look like. Consider movies like Dead Poet’s Society, The Mona Lisa Smile, Lean on Me, and the list goes on and on. The educational leaders we find here all have something in common: They’re miracle workers, freedom fighters who manage to pluck the heart strings of everyone they encounter—and by gosh, they’ll do it even if it costs them their sanity, health and job!
Leaders may have more impact when they move us, when they inspire us…but again, some of history’s most effective leaders couldn’t have plucked the heartstrings of anyone had they tried! George Patton, Steve Jobs, even Martha Stewart were brilliant and effective leaders. But they certainly weren’t noted for their congeniality. In fact, many would argue that they were downright abusive. While we’re not advocating for this brand of leadership, we’re simply trying to illustrate a point: leadership comes in many forms. Not only that, but effective leaders must do more than simply inspire others.
Leadership is an innate skill
This next point, is a bit of an extension of the previous point. Many are under the assumption that great leaders are born leaders. But Linsky and Lawrence remind us that this is not necessarily true. Leaders are often like young athletes: some of them were born holding a basketball; they had a natural inclination for the sport. It is often the case, though, that these same athletes never become the stars they were “destined” to become. Why? Perhaps it is because the others, those with seemingly less talent, had to fight and overcome adversity to reach their potential. The same goes for leader. Some may be born with a natural inclination to lead; they may have had a head-start in developing their skills, but others can surpass these folks by working hard, practicing their trade, and perfecting it.