What do Effective Leaders Do?

by Jean Tower


What do effective leaders do? Is there some elusive quality that good leaders possess? Something they are born with, that others can’t learn? I read about leadership a lot. I have some favorite authors, many of whom deal with leading change. As an educational technology leader, I recognize that much of what I do is leading (coaxing, nudging, stimulating, catalyzing) change. I find much to agree with and be inspired by in the works of John Kotter, Ron Heifetz, Michael Fullan, Douglas Reeves, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal.

Using Bolman and Deal’s different frames for examining issues has been useful to me, and John Kotter’s eight steps to leading change are brilliant. In the next several blog posts I intend to share some of my favorite excerpts from these authors and try to explain why I find their ideas relevant to my work.

As I meander through these works, I will be thinking about what difference I make. Kelly Christopherson, in a recent post on his blog, Educational Discourse, really made me think. Are we making the difference we hope to be making? Am I making a difference in my district?

If I were to leave my job tomorrow, what would change? I hope that asking these questions will help to reveal a little bit about what it is leaders do, and on a personal level, help me to look realistically at my school district and the impact technology is having on teaching and learning (versus the impact I think it should have).

For this post, rather than write about and analyze the words of the aforementioned authors, I will describe, in my own clumsy and personal way, a few of the ways I would characterize good leadership. An effective leader is ethical and moral; takes on even difficult issues and problems; knows when to let problems or solutions “ripen”; shows the people they work with that they care; has a vision for a better tomorrow and some ideas about how to get there; works damn hard. If I had to explain, in just a few words, what an effective leader does, I’d say this: we shine the light and clear the path. We shine the light on problems and solutions – we get people to pay attention, we explain why it is important. And we clear the path – when we find people who are willing to follow, we clear the path for them – we move obstacles and look for funding and cheer them on. If that’s all we did, that would already be a lot, to shine the light and clear the path.

In the next several posts I’ll write about how the actual experts answer this question –  What do effective leaders do?

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