School leadership is a tough business. Our colleagues can be harsh critics at times and greatly supportive at others. Over the years, I have worked with some wonderful people who have held various leadership positions in schools and each one was / is treated differently. Interestingly, I have seen some ineffective school leaders adored by a school community and other, more effective, school leaders derided and disliked. It is something that I have thought about for some time in reflecting upon the leader that I need to and want to be.
What is certain, is that for a long time, I have decided that my job as a leader is not to be liked or loved by everyone. There is no way that can happen if we are making purposeful and difficult decisions in the best interest of students and the school community. Not everyone will agree with our decisions and there will be times that, as a consequence, colleagues, parents and students may not be happy with us. That said, if we attempt to please everybody in attempt to be liked and loved, we are heading down a troubled path that will only create ineffective leadership for our schools, as we work in self-preservation.
As a result, I have considered charismatic leadership somewhat overrated, as I have found it to be somewhat superficial and lacking the substance of effective leadership. Reflecting on it recently, relationships really matter in providing effective leadership. Charismatic leadership sure helps, as long as the ‘talk’ is backed-up in the ‘walk’.
In reflecting on those leaders who I have considered to be very good operators and ‘get things done’ to move a school forward yet are not particularly liked, it has led me to consider an iceberg model of leadership. Many of these leaders made a hugely positive impact under the surface of the water, which their colleagues never got to see. On the surface, however, their ability to form positive working relationships with most, if not all, of their colleagues was lacking. Unfortunately, when the relational intelligence is not there, our colleagues can be very unforgiving indeed. This smaller, highly visible, part of our iceberg is often what leads to people making decisions about us as school leaders never mind how effective we might be at getting tasks completed that no-one sees.
Does this mean that leaders need to be more charismatic and seek to be liked? Absolutely not. Our interactions with others are, however, significant to garnering support to move our schools forward. As leaders we need to take an active interest in our colleagues beyond a work focused transaction to ensure that we get to know and understand those we lead.
So, beware of the impact of your iceberg.