As James MacGregor Burns writes, “One of the most universal cravings of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership.” This is true in all aspects of our lives, from the expectations we hold for the legislators who represent us to those who lead our schools. This has especially been on my mind recently as my daughter’s school searches for new leadership and as some of our schools work through leadership changes for the coming year.

Charter school leaders have the awesome opportunity and clear responsibility to be both compelling and creative: The success of charter schools is based on parental choice, and the school’s mission, vision, and leadership must be compelling enough to attract and retain families. And, our schools have the freedom and flexibility to seek creative solutions to challenges through their very nature as charter schools.

I should stop here to clarify that for me, school leadership is more than a title, position, or role. I see leadership in many different people, and it isn’t always the person who holds the title of Principal or Director. Regardless of their title, position, or role, successful leaders share is a deep-rooted commitment to their cause and an inherent desire to actively lead.

So how do you know if you are a compelling and creative leader?

School leaders fortunately receive feedback on their leadership in a variety of ways: through direct feedback from the annual school leader evaluations conducted by governing boards and responses in parent satisfaction surveys, to less direct methods like student and staff retention.

However, they are also faced with the dilemma that each of these groups likely have differing perspectives on what good leadership looks like and what skills and experiences a strong leader should possess.

To complicate matters, the reality is that expectations of a school leader are not static—they are constantly shifting, many times as reactions to changing circumstances. I was recently talking to a long time charter colleague about how school communities often choose a school leader that is very different than the former leader because they are searching for something that the former leader lacked. This is not unlike the Broncos coach selection from the young, innovative leader back to the proven, experienced leader.

So, again, how do you know if you are a compelling and creative leader?

One of the greatest forms of feedback that a school leader should consider his or her own self-reflection. Why do I want to lead this organization? What are my strengths and weaknesses as a leader? Who should be part of my leadership team that truly complements my skillsets? Where do I want to lead this organization? How do I evaluate my own performance? You might be surprised, but it is amazing the number of school leaders I meet across the state that cannot answer those questions, and upon further conversation, share that they really don’t want to be leading a school and long for the days of classroom teaching.

For self-reflection to be a truly effective feedback mechanism, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves. We should of course recognize our successes but we should also acknowledge and actively address our areas of growth. And, we should be 100% committed to be compelling and creative leaders, however that may look in each of our schools. In the end, it’s that leadership that guides the success of our organizations.

*Note: This blog entry was also included in the CSI April Newsletter message. Subscribe to our newsletters here.

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