I am not a believer in a magic pill or easy fixes to problems we encounter every day. However, I have trouble going by a list concerning the “top whatever number traits of great leaders or teachers” without taking a look. You know the lists I’m talking about. They offer the answers by telling you that if you do these ten (again or whatever number) things; you can achieve greatness.
So what? Why am I even mentioning this to you? Because after all of the reading of lists, articles, blogs, books, and audio books; and attending conferences, workshops, and professional development series; I had a moment that offered me an extended opportunity to step back and think about it all. The result was a realization that the framework of being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building your character encompasses and simplifies the act of becoming an influential leader or teacher. Even better, I believe living this framework will help you become great in any aspect of life. For example:
This is the idea of having a vision, setting goals, and executing them to achieve the desired result. You will have to work hard enough to achieve close to your potential. Do not make it harder by not planning and acting. If you are not where you want to be it may simply be the need to work smarter rather than harder.
As a leader you need to inspire people to follow the vision you have. There is no culture, company, or group that survives that feeling of being adrift for very long. Restlessness and a feeling of “what’s the point” settles in and creeps into everyday behaviors and attitudes. This results in an overall inability of people to reach for their potential. Leaders need to set a vision, goals to get there, and then move purposefully toward their attainment.
Teachers are leaders of their class. Students should always know what they are expected to learn and understand by the end of the session. This helps them focus on what needs to be done and move purposefully toward its completion. I don’t mean they just need the reference to the standard or a list of objectives. Teachers need to show their students where they are going and then assist them in creating their own path to get there.
Act With Integrity
This is the practice of doing what is right rather than what makes us look good or everyone happy. If we do not act with integrity, how can we ever expect the same from others? No matter our goal, task, or problem; if we act with integrity others will notice and work with us. Leadership, whether in the classroom or of a school is not easy and offers many opportunities to blame, shirk responsibility, and lie to ourselves and take the easy road. Long lasting success only comes from actions based in transparency, fairness, trust, and integrity. Set your moral compass and stay true.
The best way to lead others is by example. If you want those you lead to be punctual, work longer hours, or be more open minded; you need to model these behaviors. Don’t bother setting expectations that you refuse to live up to because no one else will, or should. If you want those you lead to value a new system or initiative; you must place value in it first and consistently let everyone know why. There is only one way to display integrity and trust. You must be transparent, honest, and consistently do what is right no matter how big the struggle.
Students look to teachers for much more than just subject knowledge. They see how to carry themselves, interact with others, and treat people who depend on them for something they need. We all need to make sure that what they are seeing matches what we tell them. Teachers, because they are also leaders, need to model the behaviors they expect from students. They must show students that it is important to act with integrity even when no one is looking; no matter how bad a day they are having. Students watch everything. It is part of learning. Therefore, we must make sure we act with fairness, honesty, and a genuine caring for the outcome and its effect on others
Build Your Character
This quality is directly tied to a growth mindset. Our road to success will be fraught with obstacles and things that challenge us. This is where our ability to be purposeful and act with integrity is challenged. In fact, we never know how strong our character is until it’s needed. Moreover, we are truly the only ones who can answer the call for a strong character. This is hardest at the start, but with each decision and action we perform based on what is right and true to a higher ideal it becomes easier. Character is what differentiates having a lasting, meaningful impact from a few, short lived successes. The catch is that we must welcome failure, challenges, and hardship if we are to forge a character that can withstand the roadblocks to success.
Strong character is essential to leaders. Leading is not about finding that magical road where every decision is successful, problem is easy, or follower is happy. In fact, its essence is the ability to inspire others to reach a vision by shepherding them through the most difficult times. This is done through support and exhibiting an unwavering dedication to the success for the group as a whole despite obstacles encountered along the way. Modeling this is only possible by believing in your ability to do it and having the grit and passion to follow through.
The only way a teacher or leader can achieve lasting success is if they have a strong character. Consider the multitude of student issues that originate outside of the school walls, but manifest at unforeseen times within classrooms. Consider the composition of classes and the average lifespan of a lesson before it needs to be adjusted as it is delivered. Think about the planning, adjustment, and re-planning of lessons only to find that an inadequate number of students are gaining the level of understanding required for mastery. To be great and improve their craft, teachers and leaders must be comfortable with continuous learning born from failure and struggle.
So yes, there are lists…my most recent distilled version of 5:
- Model ethical behavior and good character.
- Stretch followers to what they can become rather than what they are through challenge and support.
- Make and learn from the mistakes that allow them to gain understanding as well as knowledge.
- Never quit or stop learning.
- Respect people as people rather than tools or statistics.
As you can see and imagine, the answer is much simpler than its enactment. If you want to be a great teacher or leader who influences people in ways that help large numbers of people realize success; you must be purposeful, act with integrity, and build your character…every day and in every way.