What qualities define leadership?

So, I've been thinking a lot about what leadership really is. We talk about it a lot, and I think that, in theory, we know what defines leadership. But, where are the hard edges to the definition? How can we quantify the qualities that allow us to pick out a leader from a line up? I'm not sure that we can, but let's try to work a bit of it out.

I think that a leader needs the qualities of a quarterback, a coach and a groundskeeper.

The Coach - a good leader needs to be a coach. What does a good coach do?

  • A good coach knows his/her players.

  • A good coach knows the game plan.

  • A good coach brings out the best in his team.

The Quarterback - a good leader needs to be a good quarterback. What does a good quarterback do?

  • A good quarterback manages situations in real time.

  • A good quarterback has a relationship with his/her teammates

  • A good quarterback makes decisions based on trust.

The Groundskeeper - a good leader needs to be a good groundskeeper. What does a good do?

  • A good groundskeeper knows the situation on the ground.

  • A good groundskeeper knows more than what is visible at first glance.

  • A good groundskeeper is always ready to get their hands dirty.

Okay, let's start with a leader as a coach.

A good coach knows their players. As a leader, this means you have taken the time to know the people whom you lead. You know their families. You know about the significant happenings in their lives. In school leadership this is also true. A good leader invests in those they lead. They know the person as well as the employee.

A good coach knows the game plan. Too many times leaders lack vision. What is it that you want to accomplish? And how do you communicate that to those you lead? A good leader knows the outcomes they are working toward and communicate with those they lead in a way where teachers understand the 'why' of what they were doing and believe it is the best for student learning.

A good coach brings out the best in their players. A good leader combines their knowledge of those they lead with their individual skill, and then puts the right people in the right situation. This helps your teachers to feel empowered and confident to perform in a situation where they see the win. Some time I'll tell you about the time where I was the head of the math committee....I teach music. It wasn't pretty.

A leader as a quarterback.

A good quarterback manages the situation in real time. Great leaders start with a plan, and then prepare for reality. There will be times, no, there will be weeks on end that you will prepare for something to go a certain way, and they will move in a completely unforeseen direction. The good leaders are the ones who can make changes that lead to success, instead of chaos. They know what to do when they are forced out of the pocket.

A good quarterback has a relationship with their teammates. This is much like a coach, but there is a sense of equality in this case. A good leader has worked shoulder to shoulder with those they lead. Good leaders spend the time to work with their team to accomplish hard goals, move past failures, and make change happen.

A good quarterback makes decisions based on trust. A good leader knows that, if properly prepared, their team will come through. When that happens a good leader walks up to their teammate and says, " I knew you could do it."

A leader as a groundskeeper.

A good groundskeeper knows the situation on the ground. A good leader knows the situation on the ground. They know what is going on in their building room by room; grade by grade. Now, this does not mean they are micro-managing

everything that is going on. They are aware of the teaching and learning that is happening, and tend to areas on an as needed basis. There will be times for major reconstruction, and others where gentle trimming is needed. They know what to do when the time comes.

A good groundskeeper more than is visible at first glance. Things on the surface my look just fine, but a good leader is aware of problems or issues or near successes that could be on the horizon. They are 'around the corner' thinkers. Average leaders think one step ahead. Great leaders think five steps and three left turns ahead.

A good groundskeeper know when to get their hands dirty. And, by this I mean, they know when it is time to stop delegating and jump in with everyone else. My first year at my current school I had an associate principal who, after every concert, would start stacking chairs. And, I'm talking about a lot of chairs. When that was done he would head over to help fold the risers, and take them back to my room. When that was done he made sure I was done putting the sound system away and he'd look me in the eye, say, "great concert" and go home for the night. He didn't make a big deal of anything. He didn't want a, "Geez, Mr. H., thanks so much for the help." He just knew that when was done wrangling 200 7th and 8th graders, I needed help so I could get home to my family. And he did that every concert. I would have run through a wall for that guy. He knew when to get his hands dirty.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Dane Barner

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