We admire things; we admire people; sometimes we admire our leaders. Take a minute to think about the people and leaders that you admire. What qualities do they possess? It is possible as well to admire people that you have never met, based on the qualities you hear about or see represented.
Frequently, I walk a three-mile loop through my neighborhood. One of the houses that I pass on my walk is different from the rest. Although I don’t know the people who live in this particular house, I greatly admire the woman of the household. The inhabitants of the houses I pass remain mostly unseen. I observe the lawns, the gardens and the pets that are racing to the edge of the yard to bark at me. In this particular house, however, the mom is always out in the front yard playing with her children. Today when I passed by she was playing soccer with her daughter and then switching off to shoot free throws in the driveway with the boys. She was not watching them play, or checking Facebook on her phone while they played, she was playing with them. I admire this woman whom I do not know. Good leaders take the journey side by side those they lead. They don’t direct from afar; good leaders are in the game participating in the work that has to be done.
In thinking about the qualities of a good leader – and remember we are all leaders of someone – I began to look at the people that influenced me along the way. When I was an assistant principal, I was blessed to work with someone who demonstrated for me the importance of making the teachers feel special. Instead of picking up doughnuts for the staff or having parents drop off food for the teacher’s first day back, she would always go out of her way to take the time to decorate, have a welcome back gift for each person and create an atmosphere that let the teachers know how glad she was that they were each a part of the staff. Although there was much to be done and much to cover, she took the time to appreciate those she worked with. There were many times during the year as well, when she planned small things for the teachers to remind them they were appreciated. Good leaders appreciate those they work beside.
This same principal was not above doing any task. I remember the year that a new roof was being put on the school and a huge rain came. Leaks were popping up all over the school and the ceiling tiles were bulging at the weight of the water. She along with the custodians grabbed mops to poke holes in the ceiling tiles releasing the water. She along with the custodians picked up the pieces and mopped to get the water up so others wouldn't slip and fall. I joined in as well and learned a valuable lesson. While some might say that her time could have been spent in better ways, I learned that a good leader is not above doing any task in the organization when needed. Of course after the crisis was over, each staff member received a bottle of water with a paper umbrella attached thanking them for their help that day. I kept mine for many years to remember the lesson learned.
As a principal, I learned that there are often complainers. Some of the complaints came from students, others from parents as well as from the teachers I was leading. Someone once told me, "When someone is always at your doorstep complaining, they have too much time on their hands. Find them a task and put them to work." This strategy will work if you find out what skills the complainer has. I once worked with a teacher that I liked on a personal basis and was satisfied with the teaching in the classroom, but it seemed that whenever we changed something to accommodate a speaker, field trip or other school activity, the teacher complained. I decided to put the advice I had been given into action and because this teacher was good with schedules, whenever we needed to change a schedule, I always went to the teacher first and showed the proposed changes asking them to find any problems. Often no problems were found, but the complaints subsided as the teacher felt they had been a part of the plan. Good leaders are able to positively channel complaints. Often people just want to be heard and know that you have listened.
I have young grandchildren and am reminded how excited children are when they are able to do something for the first time. Parents and grandparents clap and make a big fuss over the accomplishment and the child repeats the behavior achieving a level of success. I firmly believe that success breeds success! If someone is struggling in your organization or a student is struggling in a classroom, you must find something where they can experience success – then celebrate that accomplishment! Even as adults, we enjoy celebrating success. We go out to dinner, call our spouse or best friend to share good news; celebrations should occur in the workplace as well. When someone sets out to accomplish a goal and achieves the goal, take the time to celebrate the accomplishment. In the education world full of testing and standards requirements, it is especially important to celebrate. We forget what it is like to be a child; giving up a little time for celebration will gain much more than it will cost. Good leaders celebrate success.
There are many other qualities that are admirable in a leader, empathy, kindness, humility and integrity to name a few. When I was a teacher, I was asked to come out of the classroom and serve temporarily as “acting assistant principal”. While I was excited about the prospect of my first true leadership experience, the first thing I thought was, “I will be one of the administrators the teachers are in their offices talking about!” Never forget that we are all leaders. Someone is out there talking about you, watching you, admiring or not admiring you. What qualities do they see in you? What qualities do you want to be seen? If you are a teacher, you are leading your students. Think about the teachers that taught you the most – what qualities did they have? Think about the teachers that you remember fondly – what qualities did they have? Sometimes it is good to hear what people would say about you. We are often focused on what we like or dislike about others; it is probably a better exercise to self-examine and make sure that we are exhibiting the qualities that would enable us to be admired as we lead others. Good leaders are admired by those they lead.