The Tips and Techniques Approach to Leadership

In seminar after seminar I encounter educators who are looking for a simple ‘tips and techniques’ approach to mastering the art of leadership. Talk is cheap. Advice is plentiful. Yet, effective leadership remains rare. For those of you looking for the secret shortcut to being a great leader, I took a few minutes to pull together the highlights from just a small number of the books, blogs, and other resources that are happily giving you the road map to success.

Seven Habits of Successful People -Stephen R. Covey
1. Be pro-active
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think Win/Win
5. Seek to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergize – collaboration
7. Sharpen the saw – balanced self-renewal

The Eighth Habit – Stephen R. Covey
Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

The Six Secrets of Change – Michael Fullan
1. Love your employees & your customers
2. Connect peers with purpose
3. Capacity building trumps judgmentalism
4. Learning is the work
5. Transparency rules
6. Systems learn

The One Thing You Need to Know – Buckingham
Narrowing your focus is a fundamental element of success.

Do Schools Kill Creativity? – Sir Ken Robinson
“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Turnaround Leader – Michael Fullan
Relentless instructional focus
Leadership depth
Capacity building
Data Driven
Define closing the gap as the goal
Attend to the basics
Tap into people’s dignity
Be sure the best people are working on it
All successful strategies are socially based
Stay the course through continuity
Build internal accountability
Establish conditions for the evolution of positive pressure
Use the previous 9 strategies to build public confidence
Effective leaders are energizing – not just innovative
Recognize you are dealing with well-qualified and well-educated group of folks that deserve to be treated like mature adults
Don’t be afraid to compliment people for their efforts
Keep your ego in check
The term ‘principal’ used to mean ‘principal teacher’. Try remembering what it was like to be a classroom teacher.
Never use your authority to threaten, intimidate, or demean.
Lead the school with moral conviction.
Be humble.

If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat Students – Neila Connors
1. Care and be concerned for others
2. Desire to be successful
3. Handle stress
4. Be in good health
5. Think logically

Leadertalk Blog
One can’t overemphasize the value of building relationships with colleagues
Taking notes makes a difference – simply ask to take notes during a conversation
If you don’t know something don’t try to fake it
Roles and value are not the same. We may have different roles but doesn’t mean we have different worth.

LeaderTalk Blogger’s Advice for New Administrators
I will do it. Volunteer to do just about anything
Tackle a major project
Get involved at the District/State level
Understand your School’s and District’s priorities
Model online collaboration and enabling others
“Staff your weaknesses” John Maxwell

National Ed Tech Plan
“For educators to get the most from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level; must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

There isn’t much to argue with in all this advice. It’s like ‘mom and apple pie’.

The problem is, even if you memorized every one of these points, even if you discussed them for hours with other prospective leaders, even if you wrote essays about them and gained a deep understanding of their meaning; it would not make you a better leader.

Knowing the elements of leadership is not the same as embodying the elements of leadership.

There are no shortcuts.

For example, (and this applies to most of the items on the lists above) knowing that you should be ‘humble’ does not make you humble. If, in fact, you are not humble, you won’t become humble by just ‘wanting’ to be humble. The insight itself isn’t enough to change a lifetime of behaviors make up the person you are. Embodying what it is to be humble takes a serious commitment to personal change. Personal change comes through ongoing reflection and daily practices.

I’ll never forget the Principal who raised his hand during one of my sessions and proclaimed emphatically,

“I already know about leadership!”

I’m sure he could recite the “7 Habits” or the “6 Secrets”; but as the rest of the class looked at him, it was clear that his leadership journey was going to be a very long one.



5 thoughts on “The Tips and Techniques Approach to Leadership

  1. This goes along with my theory that great teachers have “it,” something you really can’t teach. I believe the same is true for great leaders.

  2. Hi Pete,

    A handy anthology of leadership skills. Thanks.

    I am a fan of the Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits. I like his point about the emotional bank account. In all of your relationships you need to remember the deposits or withdrawals you have made. Don’t expect to be successful as a leader if you are always making withdrawals. One needs to keep in mind the human element of sincerity, thoughtfulness, and encouragement, of doing little things which may result in big dividends later.

  3. Paul,
    Like all the items on the list…the item you single out is good advice. Most of us know these things…few of us actually live them.

    In order to make the transfer from worthy thoughts to embodied actions, we need to commit to daily practices.

    A great example is losing weight. I don’t lose weight by knowing the seven habits of thin people. I lose weight when I commit to taking on new eating and exercise habits…and sticking to it, when I want to fall back to my old ways of eating. (BTW it helps to have someone support you as you embark on these new practices.)


  4. Angie,
    While I agree that some people are born with “It”, as you say; I have seen those that were not, develop “It”. These people have been huge inspirations for me. They are a large part of the reason I do what I do.

    I believe there is a leader in every person and I believe that it can be developed more fully in each of us. (even if we are born with “it”.)

    I agree teachers can’t be taught to be great in the traditional sense of teaching. As I say in a previous post, this is a journey of the heart and it is rarely addressed in traditional leadership programs. But there are programs in the world that help guide us in this journey.

    We need leaders in classrooms (teachers and students), as well as in administrative offices, if we are ever going to transform teaching and learning.


  5. I want to share this with my Director of Curriculum, who is a young, bright, and energetic leader. A former BOCES employee…


    Good post for summer reflection.

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