Fuel Your Professional Growth This Summer: 4 Leadership Practices to Cultivate
Great leadership is great leadership—no matter the field. And one thing we know for certain about outstanding leaders is that they are continuous learners. With the everyday demands of the school year, investing in your own learning may habitually fall to the bottom of your to-do list. Summer break offers the headspace to discover new ideas to expand your professional growth in anticipation of the next school year.
We looked across industries—from business to healthcare—to compile four tried-and-true leadership practices to add to your toolbox. These practices can be applied and cultivated regardless of where you are in your leadership journey.
When you connect to what fires you up, you can't help but inspire those around you.
Find your higher purpose
Why did you choose to become a leader in education? Chances are you're like most of us: you feel drawn to serve students. Maybe you have a thirst for creating positive change in the education system. There are likely many reasons you do what you do. But which one really drives you?
Take a few moments to think about or write down why you do what you do. Your "whys" could range from practical reasons, like making a living, to aspirational ones, like your impact on students. Now consider them all and identify which one resonates most. Which one gives you energy? That's your higher purpose—your motivation. Leaders who find a higher purpose to attach to come across as more confident and empowered. Unshakeable. When you connect to what fires you up, you can't help but inspire those around you.
All organizations have one thing in common: they're made up of people. Working effectively with others is a skill set that follows you wherever you go. And it's especially relevant today. COVID-19 changed how we work and gave credence to the need for wellness in the workplace, reminding us that people have lives outside their jobs. From Zoom parenting to dealing with burnout, we learned to be more understanding of others and ourselves. We learned that it's OK to need support. Empathy is a crucial soft skill for building inclusivity that’s beginning to take center stage in workplaces across industries.
Brene Brown says it best: "Empathy is…communicating that incredibly healing message of 'You're not alone.'" Understanding the needs and wants of those you work with helps you forge meaningful connections. With this basis of connection, you can create an inclusive environment that motivates your team to put in their best effort.
Learn to listen
Leaders need to clearly convey their ideas to appeal to multiple audiences. Effective listening is a part of effective communication, but we tend to focus more on improving our ability to deliver messages rather than our ability to receive them. The latter is underrated. Receiving messages with clarity and forging a shared understanding improves connection, prevents misunderstandings, and increases efficiency. Listening skills also help you take feedback in stride and benefit from your team's experience and specialized knowledge.
Here are some ways you can practice next-level listening skills:
- Repeat what you heard in your next conversation. Ask clarifying questions.
- Focus on what the other person is saying, even if it's tempting to think about what your response will be.
- Remember that there's more to communication than words. Notice body language, gestures, and tone to grasp what others are really saying.
Receiving messages with clarity and forging a shared understanding improves connection, prevents misunderstandings, and increases efficiency.
Delegate for greater impact
"If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate," remarks author and thought leader John C. Maxwell. We couldn’t agree more. Great leaders rely on the strengths of others. Delegating responsibilities provides a sense of empowerment and opportunities for others to grow. When teachers have opportunities to advance in their careers, they report higher job satisfaction and are more likely to stay in their roles.
Understanding the needs and wants of those you work with helps you forge meaningful connections. With this basis of connection, you can create an inclusive environment that motivates your team to put in their best effort.
We've seen time and time again how effective Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) drive powerful, school-wide change by distributing leadership responsibilities. It’s easier said than done, of course. Here are some ways you can effectively delegate responsibility to your team members:
- Be explicit in roles and expectations among your team members.
- Invest time in coaching your team towards continuous improvement.
- Trust your team to get the job done.
- Fight the temptation to overlook errors or correct them yourself.
- Let your team in on the big picture and ask for their input.
It takes time to explain the work you want to delegate, but you'll save that time and more by engaging and uplifting your team.
Great innovation happens when we look outside our field for inspiration and apply it to our own experience. As you take time this summer to restore, retool, and recommit, give yourself the space to explore. Think outside the box as you fill your toolbox. Not only will these practices help you, but they're also important actions you can take to better lead your team and impact the students you serve.