Leadership “Ethos”

Regardless of what title you hold or role you play in your organization, there is something in you that knows that no matter what good ideas or strategies the experts generate for making education better in this country, those ideas go nowhere without leadership.

Over my career I have facilitated the development of some excellent strategic plans. A few were successfully implemented; most were not. The plans did not succeed or fail based on the strength of the ideas and strategies that were contained within them. No, the key element in whether they succeeded. or not, was directly related to the effectiveness of the leaders who were charged with making them reality.


Experience has taught us that being a leader is not only about our ideas, our strategies, and our vision; these elements reflect the mind of a leader. It is not about our title or our authority or having a great personality, or being a moving speaker; although people sometimes mistake these elements for leadership.

“Leadership is not about having a magnetic personality -that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not about making friends and influencing people – that is flattery.” Peter Drucker

People are ultimately inspired by a leader’s presence and way of being. Aristotle spoke of ‘ethos’ as a type of leadership in which a leader influences others to change their values and thus their performance. ‘Ethos’ is not what a person says or promises, but it is their way of being in the world, their presence and comportment that affects how others follow them and whether they are open to their ideas.


There have been times in my life that I convinced myself that if only I could “fix” the people that didn’t “get it”; the world would be much better. The truth is that in order to transform education we must look no further than our own ‘ethos’, our own presence…our own selves. We can’t shift the responsibility for leading to anybody else. We need to hold ourselves accountable. Recently, I’ve watched a middle school art teacher in one school and a middle school library media specialist in another, lead the dynamic transformation of their two schools. The good news is that all of us can learn to be great leaders.

I understand this is not a message we hear very often. In fact, the educational institutions over which we preside, have trained us to look for important answers outside ourselves. We have been trained to look for insights, tips and techniques that we can employ with little effort to help us succeed. Fortunately, there is wisdom within us that knows tips and techniques are never enough; and having insights about ourselves is a long way from changing our behavior.

“Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.” -Ramana Maharshi


At the heart of every great school are leaders who inspire others to their own greatness, that stir passion and commitment, and make the impossible, possible. Effective leadership requires that leaders regularly turn inward, and listen to the wisdom that each of us carries within us. So often this inner voice is drowned out by the noise of our busy minds, our busy days.

From this place of peace, this place without fear; we feel our life’s purpose, we recognize our gifts, and sense the possibilities that are there for us and those we serve. If we are serious about change then we must engage the person most critical to the future of teaching and learning in this country. You already know who I’m talking about.

Are you ready to step into your own greatness?


5 thoughts on “Leadership “Ethos”

  1. Hi!
    I’m a retired school psychologist, and I agree with what you’re saying. Are you a success coach? Are you currently working on educational reform?

  2. Pete; Thanks for an insightful and moving article. We unfortunately are not striving for academic and moral excellence in our school systems to the degree we once did in past generations; this is due in great part to the lack of genuine nobility demonstrated on the part of those in key leadership positions at all levels in our various learning institutions. From a purely political perspective, what we need more have in our nation is greater statesmanship and a lot less politics. Leadership has everything to do with an awareness of who you are, a commitment to what you stand for and a willingness to be consistent in your demonstration of what good looks like, if for no other reason than because of the responsibility you have to those who will in many ways be directly and indirectly impacted by your example and message. In business, for example, genuine ‘leadership’ really is the ‘bottom line’ when it comes to effectively developing and retaining your best people. There are very legitimate reasons why people join and then choose to stay with the organizations they’re part of. We discussed in a recent leadership development session the fact that the number one reason why people ‘choose’ to leave their jobs can be traced back to ineffective leadership on the part of their immediate supervisor. We referred to recent statistics that confirmed the fact that people have a tendency to leave managers and supervisors more often than they leave their companies or jobs. It’s certainly helpful when a manager or supervisor is perceived as being a ‘nice person’ and is well-liked by the people in his or her department, but what people really want and need is effective leadership on the part of someone they respect and they trust enough to follow. They need someone who they feel has something to impart when it comes to helping them achieve their full potential and to helping them achieve the success they desire on their job and in their career and life overall. They want to follow someone who is committed to making a difference. When (in the process of helping an employee succeed) managers and supervisors make an employee feel respected, valued and also appreciated, the manager or supervisor is not only functioning more in a ‘leadership’ capacity but they are contributing to the ultimate retention of the employee. And in like manner, anything the supervisor does to make an employee feel under-valued and less significant as a person will contribute to unwanted turnover. Probably one of the most important functions that will lead to employee well-being and retention involves letting team members know in specific terms what ‘good’ looks like, and why it’s considered ‘good’. Some of the most common complaints that have come out of exit interviews and from ‘blind’ exit surveys have included a lack of clarity regarding specific expectations, a lack of clarity regarding one’s earning potential, a lack of feedback regarding one’s performance, a lack of ‘follow through’ with regard to commitments made, canceling scheduled meetings, and a failure to create an environment that’s conducive to the employee’s achieving success and fulfillment; all of which reflect ineffective leadership on the part of their supervisor. In summary, one of the most important things I’ve learned over the years in this business is that ‘work’ is about the money, but true ‘loyalty’ is all about relationship and how people feel about themselves ‘on the job’ and how important they feel their contribution is to the success of the team (their second family), and whether or not they feel significant, empowered and really appreciated. The challenge in any organization be it academic, business or otherwise, is to take an introspective look at yourself and ask yourself, are you really doing your best to develop and retain your most valued people? Consider asking yourself what you can do to make an ever bigger difference in the lives of your people and see how many ways it comes back to you. Leadership really is ‘the bottom line’ in the people business! (Leadership-The Bottom Line happens to be the name of our unique approach to the development of high performance leaders. Feel free to contact me (Dr. Jim at 800-955-0109) for free leadership development materials or for a complimentary leadership development session at your location. We’re happy to share! Isn’t that what leadership is all about – sharing!) Thanks again Pete.

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