As school leaders, we often feel pulled in many different directions and it can be difficult to navigate where we should be leading from. We must be careful to stay grounded and lead from the right place—otherwise, as a line from my favorite musical goes, we could easily be like a ship blown from its mooring, adrift with plenty of work to do but no stability.
So where should we lead from? I suggest we lead from several places: from the heart, from the mind, and from a place of stability.
Leading From the Heart
Leading from the heart is all about leading from a place of care and compassion—not only for our students, but also for the adults in our buildings and systems that we lead. For the most part, I believe we all entered education because we intended to do what’s best for kids on the daily—I mean, I hope that’s why you entered education. However, sometimes we get so caught up in doing what is best for kids that we can forget the humanity of the adults we are leading and how our kid-based decisions might affect them and the work they do each day.
I am not suggesting that we change kids being our true north during the decision-making process, but I am stating that our approach when making and sharing decisions and working with the adults is important to the climate and culture of our building. Leading from the heart means providing the adults we work with a clear picture of the “why” behind the decision and an understanding of the work that needs to be done along with a clear expectation of what the end product should be. As Brené Brown says in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind.”
Leading From the Mind
Leading from the mind entails keeping our mind clear and able to function at high levels, which includes self-care. This means taking time away from work to recharge our internal battery. To different people, this means different things. Personally, I believe Rachel Hollis is right when she stated the importance of hydration as part of her “Five to Thrive.” That’s right—I am suggesting you drink lots of water, which will mean lots of bathroom breaks, but the importance of staying hydrated is a scientifically proven fact. Secondly, leading from the mind includes an insatiable desire to learn and improve yourself as a leader. Our world is changing so rapidly, as are the issues and challenges facing our students and “staffulty” (that’s the word I use to describe faculty and staff—we are always just one big happy staffulty). We must stay current and relevant, filling our mind with new things and keeping our mind open to the possibility that our own previous beliefs may be flawed.
Leading From a Place of Stability
Leading from a place of stability means standing firm, with heart, around our decision making. However, we want stability that is similar to the stability that our spinal cord provides for our body—the stability to move many miles daily, all the while being flexible enough not to snap when we step into a pothole. Our leadership should assume this same model. Lead from a place where your students and staff feel comfortable to move forward, following you—all the while knowing that when problems arise, your dexterity and flexibility will allow everyone to move past the issue by making a minor in-the-moment adjustment while staying on course. That is true stability, staying focused on the goal and having the strength of mind and body to make minor adjustments along the way.
Note that nowhere in this blog did I mention the word ego, because in leadership there is no space for it. When your ego is permitted to guide your leadership, you will definitely be blown from your moorings and things will go awry. Don’t allow your ego to enter the room because the people we lead need leaders with clear hearts, minds, and stability—and because, in the words of educator and author Adam Welcome, “kids deserve it.”
We have been called to lead with our hearts, minds, and stability. Now get out there and change the world for the better for our kids and those we lead!
Annette Wallace is the chief operating and academic officer of Worcester County Public Schools. She is the former principal of Pocomoke High School, a high-poverty school on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Annette is the 2017 Principal of the Year for the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals and the 2018 Maryland Society of Education Technology Outstanding Leader of the Year. Follow her on Twitter at @Aewallace8.