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Unleashing Your Greatest Leadership Tool: The Power of Who You Are

By Andre J. Wicks, President of Everyday Principal, author of What Is Standing in the Way, Consultant and Leadership Coach, and Principal of Carla O. Peperzak Middle School.

2024 Summer Development Series: Join thousands of other school leaders, and leaders from the private sector, in this summer's development series focusing on you. The effectiveness of every single leadership move you make is predicated on who you are as a leader. Take a few minutes each Monday this summer (June 24 through August 26) to make an investment in the powerplant for effective leadership. Yourself.

In the world of K-12 education, school leaders—principals, superintendents, and other key figures—often find themselves grappling with a myriad of challenges. From adapting to policy shifts and fostering positive school cultures to addressing the diverse needs of students and staff, the demands are never-ending. Amidst these pressures, it’s easy to get lost in operational details. However, there’s a compelling truth that stands above all: your most effective leadership tool isn’t found in your technical expertise or strategic acumen—it’s in who you are.

The Core of Effective Leadership: The Person You Are

Research continually underscores that the effectiveness of a leader is deeply tied to their personal qualities. In his influential book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes "Level 5 Leadership" as a combination of personal humility and professional will. These leaders are not just knowledgeable or skillful; they are fundamentally trustworthy, humble, and deeply committed to their mission. They have "humility and a fierce resolve."

Kouzes and Posner, in The Leadership Challenge, highlight that traits like honesty, forward-looking vision, inspiration, and competence are essential for leaders to be credible. Among these, honesty and integrity—key aspects of your character—are the most critical.

Why Your Character Matters More Than Your Credentials

In education, where trust and relationships are crucial, who you are as a leader significantly influences your ability to inspire and motivate your team. Here’s why your character matters most:

  1. Trust and Credibility: Leaders who act in alignment with their values build trust more effectively than those who rely solely on their expertise or authority. Trust is the foundation of a healthy school culture and is often cited as a key component of effective leadership.

  2. Emotional Connection: Leaders who show genuine care and empathy form stronger emotional bonds with their staff and students. Daniel Goleman’s research on emotional intelligence shows that self-awareness and empathy are essential for effective leadership, particularly in the emotionally charged environment of schools.

  3. Inspirational Role Models: The behaviors and attitudes you exhibit as a leader set the tone for your entire school community. When you embody integrity, resilience, and passion, you inspire these qualities in others. This influence is especially important in education, where a leader’s character can shape the development of both students and staff.

Personal Leadership Development: A Roadmap to Greater Impact

Understanding that who you are is crucial to your leadership effectiveness is the first step. The next step is embarking on a journey of personal development. This summer, we will explore various aspects of personal growth that can significantly enhance your leadership impact. Here’s a preview of what we will cover this summer:

Self-awareness forms the cornerstone of personal growth. It involves a deep understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, values, and how your actions impact others. Developing self-awareness can help you align your actions with your values and build more authentic relationships.

Key Insights:

  • Self-awareness is the ability to perceive your own emotions and thoughts and how they influence your actions. Leaders with high self-awareness have a clear understanding of their values and motivations.

  • Tools like the Johari Window and 360-degree feedback can provide valuable insights into how others perceive you and help you identify blind spots.

  • Regular self-reflection and seeking feedback from trusted colleagues are crucial practices for enhancing self-awareness.

Practical Applications:

  • Engage in daily or weekly self-reflection exercises to assess your actions and decisions against your core values.

  • Implement regular feedback loops with your team to gain diverse perspectives on your leadership style and impact.

  • Use assessments like the Johari Window to explore and understand the alignment between your self-perception and how others perceive you.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is vital for understanding and managing your own emotions and those of others. Leaders with high EI foster positive, productive environments and improve interpersonal relationships.

Key Insights:

  • Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions and those of others. It is composed of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management.

  • Leaders with high EI are better equipped to handle stress, resolve conflicts, and lead with empathy, which enhances team morale and performance.

  • Developing EI requires intentional practice and a commitment to understanding and improving emotional dynamics within yourself and your team

Practical Applications:

  • Practice mindfulness and self-regulation techniques to manage your emotional responses and maintain composure in stressful situations.

  • Enhance your social awareness by actively listening to and empathizing with others, fostering a deeper understanding of their perspectives.

  • Focus on building and maintaining strong, supportive relationships by being attentive, approachable, and responsive to the needs of your team.

Authentic leadership is about being genuine, transparent, and true to yourself. It involves leading with integrity and aligning your actions with your beliefs. Authentic leaders build trust and inspire others through their consistency and genuineness.

Key Insights:

  • Authenticity in leadership means being honest about who you are, what you believe, and acting in ways that are true to those beliefs.

  • Authentic leaders create an environment of trust and openness, where team members feel valued and respected for their own authentic selves.

  • Leading with authenticity requires courage and vulnerability, as it involves sharing your true self and standing by your principles, even when it’s challenging.

Practical Applications:

  • Reflect regularly on your core values and beliefs and assess how well your actions align with them in your leadership role.

  • Communicate transparently and consistently with your team, sharing both successes and challenges honestly.

  • Foster an inclusive culture that encourages team members to bring their whole selves to work, valuing diversity and individual authenticity.

Strong relationships are the bedrock of a thriving school community. Leaders who excel at building and nurturing relationships can motivate and support their teams more effectively, leading to higher levels of engagement and performance.

Key Insights:

  • Relational skills, including communication, empathy, and collaboration, are essential for building trust and fostering a positive school environment.

  • Leaders who invest time in understanding and connecting with their team members create stronger bonds and a more cohesive team.

  • Effective relational skills enable leaders to navigate conflicts, support personal and professional growth, and enhance overall team dynamics.

Practical Applications:

  • Practice active listening and empathetic communication to build deeper connections with your staff, students, and parents.

  • Foster a culture of collaboration and mutual respect by encouraging teamwork and valuing diverse perspectives.

  • Develop strategies for managing conflicts constructively, focusing on finding common ground and maintaining positive relationships.

July 22, 2024: Leading with Vision and Purpose

Visionary leaders can articulate a compelling future and align their team around a shared purpose. This ability to inspire and mobilize people towards a common goal is vital in education, where the stakes are high, and the mission is noble.

Key Insights:

  • A clear and compelling vision provides direction and purpose, motivating and guiding the efforts of your team toward achieving shared goals.

  • Leaders who communicate their vision effectively inspire commitment and enthusiasm, creating a unified and focused school community.

  • Aligning personal and organizational goals ensures that everyone’s efforts contribute to a common mission, fostering a sense of purpose and belonging.

Practical Applications:

  • Develop a clear and inspiring vision for your school that aligns with your core values and the broader goals of the educational community.

  • Communicate your vision consistently and passionately, using stories and examples to make it relatable and engaging for your team.

  • Regularly revisit and reinforce the vision, ensuring that it remains a guiding light for your team’s actions and decisions.

July 29, 2024: Developing Resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks and maintain focus on long-term goals. For school leaders, resilience is crucial for navigating the pressures and challenges of the educational landscape while maintaining personal and professional well-being.

Key Insights:

  • Resilience involves maintaining a positive outlook and the ability to adapt to and bounce back from adversity.

  • Leaders with resilience can handle stress, remain focused on long-term objectives, and support their team through challenging times.

  • Building resilience requires developing coping strategies, fostering a growth mindset, and maintaining a balance between work and personal life.

Practical Applications:

  • Cultivate a positive and proactive mindset by focusing on opportunities rather than obstacles and learning from setbacks.

  • Develop effective stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, exercise, and time management, to maintain your well-being.

  • Support resilience in your team by encouraging open communication, providing resources for stress management, and fostering a supportive school culture.

August 5, 2024: Practicing Mindful Leadership

Mindfulness involves being present and fully engaged in the moment. Mindful leaders are more focused, less reactive, and better able to respond to the needs of their school community. This approach enhances decision-making and fosters a supportive school environment.

Key Insights:

  • Mindful leadership involves being fully present, aware, and engaged, which enhances focus, clarity, and decision-making.

  • Practicing mindfulness helps leaders manage stress, reduce reactivity, and approach challenges with a calm and balanced perspective.

  • Mindfulness can foster a more supportive and inclusive school environment by encouraging empathy, patience, and attentive listening.

Practical Applications:

  • Incorporate daily mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, to enhance focus and reduce stress.

  • Apply mindfulness techniques in your leadership interactions, staying present and fully engaged with your team.

  • Promote a culture of mindfulness within your school by encouraging staff and students to adopt mindful practices and fostering an environment of calm and clarity.

August 12, 2024: Empowering Others

Empowering leadership involves delegating authority and creating opportunities for others to grow and lead. By empowering staff and students, leaders cultivate a culture of trust and collaboration that drives school success.

Key Insights:

  • Empowerment involves providing individuals with the autonomy and resources they need to take ownership of their roles and contribute meaningfully.

  • Empowering leaders foster an environment where team members feel valued, trusted, and motivated to take initiative and innovate.

  • Creating a culture of empowerment enhances organizational performance, encourages personal growth, and strengthens team cohesion.

Practical Applications:

  • Delegate responsibilities and decision-making authority to capable team members, giving them the opportunity to lead and develop new skills.

  • Provide ongoing support and resources to empower your staff and students, ensuring they have what they need to succeed.

  • Recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of others, reinforcing their value and encouraging continued engagement and growth.

August 19, 2024: Balancing Compassion and Accountability

Effective leaders balance compassion with accountability, ensuring that high standards are maintained while also supporting the well-being of staff and students. This balance is crucial for creating a productive and nurturing school environment.

Key Insights:

  • Compassionate leadership involves understanding and addressing the emotional and personal needs of your team while maintaining clear expectations and standards.

  • Balancing compassion and accountability help create a supportive environment where individuals feel valued and motivated to perform at their best.

  • Leaders who master this balance can foster trust and respect, leading to improved morale, engagement, and performance.

Practical Applications:

  • Develop a deep understanding of your team members' strengths, challenges, and needs, and provide empathetic support and guidance.

  • Set clear expectations and hold individuals accountable for their performance, offering constructive feedback and opportunities for improvement.

  • Foster an environment where compassion and accountability coexist, promoting a culture of mutual respect and high performance.

August 26, 2024: Continuous Personal Growth

Leadership is an ongoing journey of personal and professional development. Embracing lifelong learning and seeking new opportunities for growth ensures that you remain effective and relevant as a leader.

Key Insights:

  • Continuous personal growth involves a commitment to lifelong learning and the pursuit of new skills, knowledge, and experiences.

  • Leaders who prioritize personal development are better equipped to adapt to changing circumstances and inspire their teams to do the same.

  • Embracing a growth mindset and seeking out opportunities for learning and self-improvement enhances your effectiveness and resilience as a leader.

Practical Applications:

  • Set aside regular time for personal development activities, such as reading, attending workshops, or pursuing further education.

  • Seek out feedback and mentorship to gain new perspectives and insights that can inform your growth and development.

  • Encourage a culture of learning and growth within your school, promoting professional development opportunities for your staff and fostering a love of learning among students.

Wrapping Up: Embrace the Journey of Personal Leadership

The essence of leadership in education transcends your knowledge or skills—it is fundamentally about who you are. Your personal qualities—integrity, empathy, authenticity, and vision—form the foundation of your leadership. As we embark on this journey of personal development, remember that each step you take toward becoming a better version of yourself will profoundly impact those you lead.

Starting tomorrow, June 24, 2024, join the EP Network each week as we explore different facets of personal leadership development. Together, we will uncover practical strategies and insights to help you grow as a leader and as a person.

Embrace this journey with dedication and enthusiasm, and I promise you will find that the greatest tool for leading your school to new heights is, indeed, the person you are.


  1. Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. HarperBusiness.

  2. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (6th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

  3. Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. Free Press.

  4. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books.

  5. Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart.

  6. George, B. (2003). Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. Jossey-Bass.

  7. Cherniss, C., & Goleman, D. (2001). The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

  8. Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin.

  9. Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles. Broadway Books.

  10. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion.

  11. Blanchard, K., & Waghorn, T. (1997). Empowerment Takes More than a Minute. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

  12. Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2019). Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World. Harvard Business Review Press.

  13. Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Doubleday.

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Love it Andre! Look forward to these dives each week.

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