“Studying leadership is an empty experience without reflection “(Campbell & Jones, 2016, p.184)
Recently, in preparing for conversations with my students in higher ed, I was really struck by the quote above. We study leadership to increase our own capacity as well as support of growth of others. What are we hoping to develop in leaders? Campbell and Jones offered some thoughts on the characteristics of good leaders – originally thinking about leadership needed in post secondary environments such as community colleges.
A good leader listens to the voices from all sectors and is able to filter wisdom from the rhetoric.
I consider some of their thoughts from my own lens, now having worked in both K-12 and higher education environments:
1. Good leaders must understand what they know and can do, and in what areas are their deficits. This reminds me that we are always in a state of evolution and must consider growing as a life long process. Knowing ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses is not only a sign of maturity but a leadership disposition. Good leaders are interested in growing both emotionally and intellectually.
2. A good leader listens to the voices from all sectors and is able to filter wisdom from the rhetoric.
As a teacher, principal and/or as a superintendent there certainly have been times when it seemed many voices were trying to get my attention at the same time. Being a parent offers the same challenge at times. Filtering through which voices needed to be prioritized and for what purpose is both important and challenging. Developing strong listening skills is a certainly key leadership attribute that helps us to sort through things. Filtering through what people share to what is insightful and important advice becomes an instinct with experience. We learn to trust our own inner voice as a guiding frame at the same time as we listen carefully to others.
3. A good leader can back away from the fray and find a calm place in her brain and in her heart from which to make wise decisions.
This thought really resonated with me as an individual I can’t be around people without some reflection time when difficult decisions need to be made. I need to step away, find a quiet place to think before I jump into declaring or recommending a next step or a decision. I know I make better decisions if I give myself the gift of a little quiet time to examine all the variables included and also listen to my gut.
4. A good leader is capable of acknowledging mistakes and learning from those experiences.
We don’t always get it right. Not acknowledging a mistake often ends more badly than acknowledging it. Learn from your experience is a perennial piece of advice we give our children. We must give ourselves the same sage advice.
5. Good leaders identify their core ethical principles and live by them.
This thought is key. Maturity as a leader involves knowing oneself – the ethics and values that are a part of you of who you are and which guide you through good times and not so good times. Before accepting a leadership position, it is always important to ask oneself what am I really trying to accomplish and what is truly important to me as an individual. Once articulated and understood, this knowledge helps to ground us and to find our balance in rockier moments. A grounded leader is one who can learn to handle the complexities of leadership and who is ultimately able to serve the needs of others well because they also know themselves well. Can we teach leaders core ethical principles or are they a part of us – our essential self? Perhaps the answer is yes and yes. I hope so.