In addition to understanding their respective businesses and being able to manage core finances, Level 5 leaders were found to possess a wide range of other important competencies, such as the ability to get the right people “on the bus,” to build internal consensus, and to lead humbly from behind (commonly referred to as “Servant Leadership”).
Level 5 designees also commonly demonstrated capacity to craft and maintain a clear vision and a sense of direction for the company for both the short and long terms. They possessed the requisite skill set to lead their organizations forward in a fast-changing corporate climate – a skill set that extended far beyond the conventional “how-tos” of their respective businesses.
More specific to education, researchers have identified a powerful correlation between principal effectiveness and student achievement.
In School Leadership That Works (ASCD, 2005) Robert Marzano, Timothy Waters and Brian McNutley of McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) identify 21 primary responsibilities of school leaders, culled from a meta-analysis of many studies on the subject. These duties include being a change agent, serving as an “optimizer” (charged with establishing and maintaining a healthy school culture) and building relationships. The list also contains such qualities as possessing keen situational awareness (having the ability to make proper decisions based on constituent feedback, local politics and the like) and a general sense of the “lay of the land.”
These skills are in addition to things associated with such areas as core instruction, teacher effectiveness, curriculum development and discipline – the primary skills aspiring principals could reasonably be expected to develop along their professional pathways, and the main areas of focus for many graduate and instructional leadership programs.
In their examination of effective school leadership, Marzano and his colleagues also speak about first and second order change. They distinguish between change that is fundamentally consistent with existing organizational norms and values and does not require new learning (first order) and change that represents a clean break from the past, a divergence from existing values that demands much in the way of new learning and skills (second order).
Naturally, advancing second order change – the kind of change that is typically necessary to bring our organizations forward in line with more current best practices – demands more in terms of leadership capacity than does first order change. “Second order” skills include the ability to develop a clear vision, create a strategic plan, delegate effectively, and build equity with staff.
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Before proceeding any further I would like to emphasize that I have the utmost respect for our communal leaders. These are my colleagues, and I know just how talented they are, how hard they work, how much they routinely accomplish and how much they have invested in the success of their organizations and communities. I recognize they easily could have taken their abundant capabilities elsewhere and pursued more lucrative and less frustrating (or at least less consuming) positions. Instead, they chose a life of klal service. They asked how they could give back to their communities and elevate them to newfound levels of growth and achievement.
I believe every leader deserves our support and appreciation.
But I also know that I assumed an executive position in school administration with two master’s degrees and a number of years of teaching experience under my belt. I had also served in two separate administrative positions for a total of eight years (this does not include three years as part-time program director providing teacher training, parenting and mentoring services) and was able to strengthen each program where I had worked. Yet, in retrospect, I feel that all my aggregate training and experience was insufficient in preparing me for the new challenges presented by my role of head of school of a sizable community day school.