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How to Be a Principal: 10 Lessons in Leadership

Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 08:04 AM

Thirty-nine years is a long time to do anything. It's a long time to live in the same place, be married to the same person, or work for the same employer, especially if that employer is the New York City Department of Education.

I plead guilty to all three, with no regrets. In fact, I know how fortunate I've been to achieve that degree of longevity in both my personal and professional lives.

Eric NadelsternCity Hall News Eric Nadelstern

For two-thirds of my career, I was in leadership positions ranging from principal to deputy chancellor, and almost every station in between. During that time, I learned a great deal about myself as a leader, and about leadership itself.

That learning can be distilled into the following 10 lessons in leadership:

1. The more authority a leader is willing to share, the more influential he or she becomes.

2. Effective leaders awaken the leader within each member of the organization.

3. The primary job of the leader is to prepare those who work for him or her for their next position.

4. Despite a succession of ever-increasing leadership responsibilities, I am still a teacher; only my students have changed — from high school youngsters, to teachers, to principals, and finally to superintendents and network leaders.

5. In schools and school systems, the model for adult learning must parallel the model of student learning, and always does. That is, the way you work with and develop both teachers and principals invariably finds its way into classroom practice.

6. Conventional wisdom is that teachers talk and learners listen. However, I have found that the most effective teaching and leading comes from listening; and when the learner is active and talking, hr or she learns more and retain it.

7. All organizations attract the quality of leadership they are designed to attract.

8. Many people have unresolved conflicts with authority figures in their lives which they readily transfer to the present leader; but it is important for principals not to take them personally.

9. As Max DePree advised us in his book "Leadership Is an Art," good leaders absorb pain, they don't inflict it.

10. Leadership is not the highest level of moral development or authority. At times, leaders may find it necessary to balance the needs of an individual with the greater good of the organization. Such decisions must be made thoughtfully, and with humility.

It is my hope that these tenets of leadership resonate with you, and that you will take this opportunity to offer other ideas for your colleagues to consider.

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