I had the great privilege of working for (and with) a leader who embodied the qualities and characteristics needed to lead a learning culture. His leadership style makes him memorable and worth extolling in a post.
Throughout my doctoral studies leadership was a main topic of discussion (and the basis of many assignments). As I researched more and more about what makes an excellent leader, one person repeatedly came to my mind – my Servant Leader, Al. I call him The Servant Leader because that is what he is. Al’s leading style resonates servant hood and that, among other fine leadership characteristics, has made him so memorable for me. I feel honored that I was able to work with him for a number of years.
Al came to Crimson Gate Private School (CGPS) (pseudo) during an unstable time for the school (that need not be addressed) suffice it to say that he came without a full battery of data about the school, the board of trustees, the faculty and staff, and the parents. Al came to the school with a store house of relevant knowledge such as understanding business organizations and school environments. He had worked for the public school, worked as an administrator abroad, and had worked in the public business realm as well. He is a knowledge man. However, Al was deficient in what Jerome T. Murphy (Grogan, 2013) refers to as local, situational, and people knowledge. Murphy summarizes these three knowledges as:
- “Local kKnowledge’: the histories key actors, rituals, and contexts of various units within the organization;
- ‘Situational Knowledge: the who, what, when, and how of a given issue; and
- ‘People Knowledge: staff members’ thoughts and feelings, their perceptions of reality, and the meanings they attach to these perceptions” (p. 32).
This did not impede Al. He knew he needed everyone’s help and he immediately adopted the mindset of gathering information about all people involved and began the process of pursuing a shared vision. The principal stakeholders, the parents, staff, faculty, board of trustees, and students all had one major element in common, the connection to CGPS (Senge, Cambron- McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, & Kleiner, 2012) and they all wished to see CGPS vision flourish. Al enlisted his staff and faculty to discover the values that we felt were important to achieve and as a group we endeavored to create principles and guiding practices that we hoped to implement (Senge, et al, 2012). This was one way Al effectively changed our positions of subordinates to fellow followers and mid-level leaders (Grogan, 2013). Al personified the leader depicted in David Gergen’s (Ditkof, 2011) statement, “A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there” (para 22). Al raised our hopes and released our energies to work together and build a shared vision as fellow constituents.
“A leader’s role is to raise
people’s aspirations for what they can become
and to release their energies so they will try to get there”
(Ditkof, 2011, para 22)
Additional characteristics shared by Al and other effective leaders of learning cultures are as follows:
- an insistence on collaboration and participation rather than dominating with power by virtue of his title;
- an accountability mentality; that of holding himself and others accountable rather than covering up by blaming;
- compromising rather than controlling; and
- trusting and validating his faculty and letting go of control
The aforementioned characteristics are servant-hood descriptors requiring a true listening mindset. Al really listened and a beneficial byproduct was that he was afforded a window into his constituents’ lives and perspectives. Murphy affirms this attribute as “essential for gathering information about organizational activities [and] and to understand the varying perspectives of others” (p. 35).
I could go into so many more characteristics that confirm Al’s embodiment of qualities and characteristics needed to lead a learning culture, but then my post would be my normal six to seven pages and no one would read it. So, for me personally, I conclude with Al’s most contributing servant leadership quality that has impacted my career beyond words. Al embraces the concept of realizing the importance of middle- and lower-level leaders (Grogan, p 26), he does not ignore the invisible leadership of lower-level staff members such as me (Grogan, 2013), He saw leadership/administrative abilities in me and he pushed me. For that I am eternally grateful, for I would not be here if it was not for My Servant Leader.
Ditkof, M. (2011, January 24). 50 awesome quotes on vision [Web log post]. The Heart of Innovation. Retrieved from http://www.ideachampions.com/weblogs/archives/2011/01/50_awesome_quot_1.shtml
Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN: 9781118456217.
Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J., & Kleiner, A. (2012). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Random House/Crown Business.