Game Changers | Lead | The Journey of a Leader
For over a decade, CIRCLE – The Centre for Innovation, Research, Creativity, and Leadership in Education has had the privilege to be part of the ongoing lives of many schools around the world. As we seek to support the work of these “schools of character”, we are struck by similarities between those leaders who seem to be particularly successful in serving their communities.
Clearly, no one journey is exactly the same as another. Yet what we see time and again is that a story of success is typically one in which an individual can develop a clear sense of purpose and align their practice to it in pursuit and attainment of the mission of the school. It is the values that underpin the character and the competencies of a fit for purpose 21C leader that act as the moral compass for this journey. Let’s look into the learning, leadership, and service of one school Principal as an exemplar of this.
Our Principal came into the headship of her relatively young school at a time where enrolments were at the mercy of an unstable market. The school was generally well-regarded, and the good teachers were highly valued by the parents and students. With a reliance on a specific group of international families congregating around a particular development project, the school itself found it difficult to move beyond a pattern of these families coming and going based on the variable funding of the project. Progress in strategic clarity, operational reliability, and cultural connection were all required – this depended on a process of engagement with the community and development of a shared vision for the future that was articulated into a story of progress to which everyone could feel affinity.
Strength of character, honesty, and a reliance on practical solutions have characterised the approach of our Principal. She has consistently sought to explain where the school is and where it is going in a consistent and straight-forward fashion. She listens carefully to the voices of the community and balances the need for delivery of excellence with the strong desire for relationality among the different stakeholders. She does not shy away from saying “no” when required, yet seeks to achieve as many wins as possible for as many of those within the school community. She strives to involve herself closely in the centre of (not at the top of) student life and doesn’t take herself too seriously in the process. Her daily business management is tight and focused, demonstrating her understanding of responsible stewardship; her strategic building and allocation of resources is imaginative, demonstrating her concurrent appreciation of capitalising on opportunity. She seeks to contextualise the legacy of the school of yesterday with the immediate demands of the school of today, while both literally and metaphorically building the school of tomorrow.
To build character wealth, leaders must treat their people as investors, because that is what they are – intellectual, emotional and character investors. Every day, they bring their heads and hearts to their character work with students.
Her energy is infectious, and she models her own professional learning as an example to others. She responds to constructive feedback with a desire to sharpen her own performance. She is learning in particular about managing her time as a key resource and delegation of authority. She is becoming stronger at equipping those who work with her to believe in their own capacity to lead. She is aware of the importance of her role but does not seek to advance it beyond what is necessary to do what her school needs of her; we have never heard her place herself before others. She seeks to collaborate with others to define the guiding ethos and strategy of the school and model the character and competencies that the school seeks to bring out in its graduates.
You don’t need to look hard to see evidence of the values in which her work is grounded. These are consistent with the values of a fit for purpose 21C school leader:
Our Principal’s exercise of the values of the fit for purpose 21C leader also directly influences the character capital of her school. Character capital refers to the quantum of character in a community and its relevant expressions in education, practice, apprenticeship, and leadership for this character. It relates particularly to the value of the feelings and perceptions held by the school and wider communities about the character purpose and character strengths of a school. Families want to support and to be involved with schools whose values and character they respect. This in turn creates brand value, reputation and goodwill and results in loyalty, lifetime relationships and referrals. In this way, character capital externalises the shared purpose of relationships. It also internalises the alignment of hearts and heads. The value of families’ character commitments is held in the hearts of the people within a school. It can be seen in the energy and enthusiasm that people bring to support and act upon the values and character strengths of the school. Every relationship that a school has with everyone it touches is an asset and an investment.
To build character wealth, leaders must treat their people as investors, because that is what they are – intellectual, emotional and character investors. Every day, they bring their heads and hearts to their character work with students. If they do not do this work imaginatively and with commitment, outcomes for character education will be diminished. Character capital also builds personal value in terms of the level of positive, focused energy about character and character education that leaders invest at work and in their personal life. Leaders may inspire or demoralise others first by how effectively they manage their own character presence, and secondly, by how well they mobilise, focus and renew the collective character energy of the people they lead.
What we see, therefore, in our Case Study is a Principal who is rapidly transforming her school and building for it a sense of security, confidence, and optimism. She is securing the future of her school and developing the culture of learning and character capital that will sustain this for years to come. What are your leadership values? How are they building the character capital of your school? And how is this reflected in your own character?