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To Be Strong Leaders, More Principals Need to Share Authority

Friday, November 04, 2011 - 09:30 AM

In my last post, I laid out 10 lessons in leadership. I'm going to talk about the first one here: The more authority a leader is willing to share, the more influential he or she becomes.

Eric NadelsternCity Hall News Eric Nadelstern

Many people ask me how I feel about my years at Tweed, my contributions as deputy chancellor, and my reactions to what has transpired since my departure.

Most recently, Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, inquired on another blog about when I would reveal my true feelings about having worked for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

The truth of the matter is that I don't regret it for a moment, and that I am extremely proud of the work I was able to accomplish while working for these exceptional leaders.

A good part of what made Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein exceptional was their embrace of the principle above. Both men shared their authority easily with the people who reported directly to them, and I would contend that much of their success has resulted from it.

Nevertheless, I do harbor a major regret that too many of our principals never internalized this important lesson. The network structure I developed was intended, among other things, to model the power of shared authority for principals.

When school leaders share their authority with teachers, parents and even the students themselves, they widen the circle of those who are responsible, and ultimately accountable, for student success. Just as important, they acknowledge that education is about developing the leadership potential of each student, and understand that each teacher is a classroom leader with the potential to become an effective school leader.

Unfortunately, too many principals jealously guard their authority, attempt to impose their will on their teachers, make school policy by fiat and ignore parental input.

Such weak leadership succeeds in nothing more than letting everyone else off the hook for getting students to achieve at high levels. For generations in the New York City public schools, this has become the norm with devastating consequences rooted in unconscionable levels of student failure.

In the best schools, however, a model of shared authority has led to a broad-based ownership of student outcomes in which all staff members, and many family members, do everything necessary to ensure that students do not fail to succeed. The challenge for those in leadership at Tweed is to make this the norm rather than the exception.

In my next post I'll explore the second lesson: Effective leaders awaken the leader within each member of the organization.

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