Quick Thoughts on Leadership

I recently had occasion to answer this question in writing:

What characteristics define an excellent administrator?

Bearing in mind I had to keep my answer concise, here’s what I came up with:

When I reflect upon the excellent administrators with whom I’ve worked, they have all possessed a few common core characteristics:

Students come first: When actions needed to be taken or decisions made, the best administrators keep the impact on the students at the forefront of the decision-making process, and they do what is right, not necessarily what is convenient.  They conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate respect for students as people and members of the school community – even in disciplinary contexts – and in doing so, earn the respect of their students.

Ask and listen: The better administrators with whom I have worked spent more time asking questions and sincerely listening to responses in order to guide their leadership.

Distribute leadership: The best administrators recognize the strengths of their individual teachers and draw upon them to strengthen the school as a whole.  They recognize, praise, and nurture the talents in their buildings and encourage collaboration and continuing learning among their staff.

Obviously there’s much more to be said, and I’d like to see if we can crowdsource this.  Off the top of your head, what can you say about the excellent administrators with whom you’ve worked?  What did they have in common?

Extra credit for tying it to some practice we non-administrative types can or should engage in.


  • I like your list.

    1. Decisions made in line with mission of the school – ideally “how does this decision make this school a better place for students to learn and staff to work?” If it doesn’t then don’t do it.

    2. Be the change you want to see. You can’t expect meaningful change if you aren’t committed to it yourself. An administrator in general needs to be self driven. For example you can’t expect your teachers to embrace technology if you aren’t willing to on your own accord.

    3. Be thick skinned and selfless. No one needs someone with a fragile ego running the show. The mark of a good administrator is that when excellence is achieved everyone has ownership themselves. There isn’t time to have your feelings hurt and play favorites. You can’t please everyone and that’s okay.

    4. Communicate not just decisions but the rationale behind them.

    5. Find some way to have a positive experience of school every day. Preventing fires is more rewarding than putting them out and managing one crisis to the next is no way to lead. Find a club to work with, teach a class a year.

  • I believe all professionals in education should be practicing visiting and sharing. Teachers and administrators alike should be in classrooms, visiting, picking up strategies, observing students, and looking for “best of”. I realize that administrators are busy, and teachers need to be released for this, but it would go a long way to making excellent schools.

  • […] since December of 2009, according to WordPress.  No real reason why I never saw it through, but Susan Meisel’s comment on my last post about leadership certainly brought the sentiments behind it bubbling forth: I […]

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