Friday, July 9, 2010

What makes a good leader?

I have been asking myself this question for years. In my eight years of teaching I have worked with some good and bad leaders. The good leaders have really stood out for me and have made a positive impact on my life.

Questions lie: What makes a good leader stand out from the rest?

In my experience, I believe an effective leader demonstrates positive relationships with others with an emphasis on trust, respect and openess, is visionary with their beliefs, sets goals, able to handle the difficult situations (tough issues) that go with the job, able to communicate, is knowledgeable on a range of issues e.g. curriculum, is a life long learner, is able to guide and support learning and encourages team members to be life long learners as well.

The Ministry of Education have outlined four leadership principles: manaakitanga (leading with moral purpose), pono (having self belief), ako (being a learner), and awhinatanga (guiding and supporting) (Ministry of Education, 2010). These qualities underpin the principles of leadership within schools. How I look at these qualities, they can be applied to any leadership position and teaching position.

Manaakitanga (leading with purpose) this entails setting clear goals and knowing how to achieve them. In a classroom situation, it would be looking at ways to improve student achievement-knowing what the needs are of individual students, working on those needs and knowing where to take the students to the next level.
On a Principal's perspective it is about having a moral purpose of the day to day running of their job. This principle is very broad in its own sense. It includes ensuring staff are equipped with the knowledge and skills in raising student achievement. It is building partnerships with the community and relationships are at the core.

Pono (self belief) entails believing in oneself and confident to carry out the task required. This principle requires identifying what needs to be improved and willingly trying out new ideas. Self belief can be associated with resilience. This means, if the leader is very stressed over something, they are able to bounce back and focus on other aspects of their job. Not the easiest thing to do.

Ako (being a learner) entails furthering your professional practice and learning. This may mean doing university study, reading education literature, having professional learning conversations / meetings, inviting facilitators to come in to provide professional development on a curriculum area for staff, modelling good practice, peer to peer teaching, observing someone's practice. In Education, being a learner never stops, even for teachers and principals. The sharing of knowledge is critical. It is very easy to become cocooned in your own knowledge field. It is also very important to involve the community as there could be someone with a hidden talent that could be shared and that may benefit the teaching and learning of the students. Being a learner means having an open mind to try things out and to be willing to change your practice. This principle is not the easiest one to follow for teachers, but I feel that as teachers we are promoting learning within our classrooms, yet we have to be the learners as well. How we go about it and attitudes towards our professional learning will make the difference for our students at the end of the day.

Awhinatanga (guiding and supporting) refers to the level of interpersonal care from school leadership that is evident in staff relationships. Awhinatanga is based on empathy from the top, and involves the principal’s ability to sense the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others. This principle is critical. Relationships are essential and they are the building blocks for successful guidance and support programmes. Creating an environment where leadership is distributed will enhance the knowledge and skills other staff members bring to the profession.

Goleman (1998) has also identified the qualities of great leadership. These qualities are: Self Awareness, Self Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills. These qualities can easily be applied to classroom practice.
Self Awareness being aware of your own beahviours, moods, emotions and how they may impact on others. Also understanding the needs of others.
Self Regulation: entails being able to constantly reflect on your performance and decisions you make. It also means thinking before acting and speaking.
Motivation: entails being able to drive yourself and others into the desired direction. It is about inspiring others to reach their full potential. In the classroom, this would entail making learning challenging, engaging but also fun. We all need to have that sense of fun in the work place.
Empathy: entails the ability to understand people, their moods, situations and being able to handle the most challenging situations. It is treating people the right way during there time of need and through their emotional state.
Social Skills: entails building quality relationships and having the ability to persuade people's thinking. Social Skills focus on team building promoting leadership skills.

Ministry of Education (2010) Retrieved Friday July 9,

Goleman (1998) What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, United States of America

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