All effective middle school leaders take the time to reflect. In addition to purposeful reflection, the strongest kind of leader will also question themselves, explore their thoughts, and assess their actions in an honest manner.
The eight questions below should be answered by any change agent on a regular basis. The items serve as a starting point and potential springboard for change that leads to stronger schools and more successful students.
How do I schedule meetings?
Every educator seems to have a schedule that grows increasingly hectic. When it comes to meeting with others and scheduling time to talk, plan, or collaborate, ask yourself how you routinely schedule meetings. The effective leader will contact all invited parties and request dates and times that work well with their schedule in terms of a meeting. They will then look for commonalities, secure a date and time that is good for all, and communicate with the various parties. The ineffective leader will not ask for input, will not use other's schedules as a beginning point, and will instead, send out several dates and times that work well for them, expecting others to accommodate and make necessary changes.
When I am supposed to offer undivided attention, what does that look like?
All good leaders know that their stakeholders want to be heard. It is important, when meeting with others and engaging in productive dialogue, that full attention is given to the individual who is sharing their thoughts. The effective leader will turn away from all duties, maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, ask intentional questions along the way, and often nod in agreement, as appropriate. Someone who is highly ineffective will host a meeting, yet continuously check email, answer the phone, text, work on other tasks, or allow multiple interruptions during a scheduled time of conversation. The best dialogue comes when all parties are prepared, and full attention is offered by the leader.
When it comes to credit for accomplishments, do I celebrate or steal?
No one likes a thief, especially when it comes to stealing credit. The most extraordinary kind of leader will often relinquish credit to those individuals who have assisted with a task or project. This kind of leader knows that celebrating others and stepping out of the spotlight themselves, builds a kind of culture where everyone wants to perform at a higher level. It also helps cultivate a harmonious workplace that is free from unhealthy kinds of competitive behaviors. A leader who is lacking, may often insert their own name, bragging upon themselves, when compliments are being shared, or simply take credit for what others have done. Relinquishing credit is the way to go.
Do I foster trust or mistrust?
All strong leaders know that they should foster a feeling of genuine trust with those they serve. Trust allows a group to operate in an authentic manner, share thoughts, and work in a progressive manner, without fear and distrust becoming obstacles to growth. The best kind of leader allows people to share thoughts, ask probing questions, and seek information, while knowing that they will be treated with respect and knowing that the information will not unnecessarily be shared with others. Taking information and sharing it with others without the consent of all parties, or relaying information in a way that is not fully accurate, breeds mistrust and can diminish not only the quality of outcomes, but also diminish the daily quality of work in general.
When it comes to growth, do I close doors or provide opportunities?
The ineffective leader works to close doors, while an effective leader is continuously trying to open doors. When it comes to growth and growing your teammates in a multitude of ways, a true leader will provide opportunities, and avoid saying "no," simply because they can. While all requests are not always granted, the effective leader will work to say yes or operate in a manner of compromise, which can still lead to meaningful opportunities. Saying "no" repeatedly, without sound reasoning and justification does not make a leader look strong, but instead, can make one appear to be close-minded and not progressive.
Would others report that I inspire or stifle?
The ability to inspire someone is not a task that comes easily to all parties. Feeling inspired is a necessary component for any employee that you hope will work diligently, be innovative, and exceed expectations. Often, when we see someone walking down the hall, we have an initial thought. We either hope to interact with them, we hope to avoid them, or we are indifferent. In the end, the effective leader will know if people are naturally drawn to them and the possibility of inspiration, or if they prefer to be away from them, headed in the opposite direction. Inspiration is something that any good employee will look to their leader for, and it is something that the most extraordinary leaders will try to provide on a regular basis.
What can I identify as my intentional efforts regarding social justice?
The best kind of leader plans for and can easily speak to their efforts with regard to social justice and social injustice. Issues related to social justice is a timely and relevant topic, and it is a subject that should always be at the forefront of any good leaders' mind. An effective leader can talk about how they regularly educate others and advocate for topics within the social justice realm. The ineffective leader will struggle to answer this question in a heartfelt manner or they may provide an answer that lacks depth or real action. The bottom line … all good leaders are intentional about what they are doing to promote social justice.
Is it undeniable that I am making growth in multiple ways?
Each day, our time, effort, energy, and actions should be focused on positive and sustainable growth. Growth can take on multiple forms, but nonetheless, it should be occurring. While not every task may show positive gains all the time, the effective leader will have a track record of undeniable growth. The ineffective leader will make excuses, try to divert attention elsewhere, or only review certain indicators of growth. After honest reflection, the best kind of leader will work toward and be able to, without a doubt, showcase how they are helping people, growing their stakeholders, achieving growth, and leaving a lasting impact.
Reflection is a key component for any effective leader. Reflection requires us to be intentional about how we reflect, purposeful about when we reflect, and honest about where we are as a leader and where we hope to be.
Questioning ourselves, our beliefs, our actions, and the successful completion of our desired outcomes helps make us a more effective leader. The eight questions outlined above should be answered by anyone in school leadership in an ongoing manner. Answering the questions alone, with a valued teammate, or with someone you trust, can lead to stronger leadership, more significant results, and a better, higher quality way of positively impacting those we serve.
James Davis, Ph.D., is an associate professor and program coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, South Carolina, where he works within the educational leadership department. He has been named both teacher of the year and principal of the year.
Published March 2019.