Lead With One Foot Out the Door
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
The best leaders, the ones who truly understand what it means to lead, know that from the minute they step into a leadership position, they have to have one foot already on the way out.
This doesn’t mean leaders are thinking about retirement or leaving the profession; far from it. Rather, what it means is that the best leaders lead for the future, knowing that organizations need to have a leadership scheme in place if they want to be successful for generations.
This means that a leader needs to begin thinking about those who will come next even as she is reflecting on the work of her predecessor.
What is so interesting about this idea is that a leader is always in transition, even those leaders who have been in their current position for quite a while, and most interestingly, even for those who began their leadership position today.
How do we keep one foot grounded while building capacity for the future with the other foot? Here are three ideas:
- Make the learning and leading relevant. If you want to cement your status as a lead learner while at the same time encouraging your stakeholders to dip their toes in the leadership waters, the learning opportunities provided have to be relevant and focused on your population of learners. How do you do this? Simply by learning what interests those in your community and providing access to resources that allow your team (of staff, students, and parents) to explore them. The same goes for the leadership opportunities provided. If you want your stakeholders to run with something, you first have to provide them with the proper shoes. If a building or district lacks opportunities for leadership that are meaningful to the team, then even the most prepared future leaders won’t take the next step. An organization needs to build the structure to support those who want to explore new roles, and more importantly, have roles in place that people actually want to explore.
- Delegate regularly. The most effective leaders know that they are not superhuman and no matter what magic they try to conjure, the day will still only have twenty-four hours. These leaders know that one of the best ways to drum up leadership recruits is to be a proactive leader, one who distributes tasks based on need and interest. This doesn’t mean that everyone becomes a leader, but it means that everyone could, if interested. Yes, there are some tasks that the lead learner must handle primarily, but it is amazing how many aspects of operating a school or district can be made stronger by collaborating with students, other staff, and parents.
- Promote a Culture of “Why?” The most committed leaders and learners are those who are never afraid to ask “why?” These people love questions, and rather than waiting for problems to show up, actively seek them out. Leaders can build a “why” culture by taking risks, admitting when they don’t know, and steering for uncharted territory rather than just the same old, same old. When you build a culture of “why,” you are instinctively developing capacity to keep moving forward. This makes it easier to address problems when they arise, and appropriately handle change, such as a lead learner eventually moving on. More importantly, it helps learners gain experience in fending for themselves, a characteristic that every proactive leader needs to develop.
As silly as it might sound, any leader worth his salt needs to always be thinking about transitioning, if for no other reason than the future of his organization.
So celebrate that new position for a minute. Now start preparing for when you have to leave.