How To Be More Than A Leader—Be A Mentor

Vol. 12 No. 4


The New Year is right around the corner. For some of us, it's a time to reflect and make changes within ourselves for our greater good. As a School Head, your role is to lead your leaders to excellence. It’s a term you’ve probably heard more than once, especially if you’re an avid ISM reader. The phrase carries more weight than you may think. It’s not about simply being able to direct, or appointing tasks, or having perfected communication skills. It’s about being a mentor.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” –William Arthur Ward.

You didn’t get to where you are by never being inspired. There must have been that one teacher, professor, or adviser who moved you to want to make a difference in the lives of children. There’s an unwritten rule, “one should always give back what they’ve received.” Meaning, if you’ve had a great mentor, you should pay it forward by being an inspiration to others.

Being a mentor is about believing in those you’re coaching—it’s establishing an environment where your protégés feel comfortable asking “silly” questions, seeking guidance, and sharing insecurities. It’s also about being open yourself to learn from those you’re instructing. Yes, it is your job as Head to lead your team to their full potential, to fill in the gaps. But, a wise mentor understands learning never ends. If you believe that those you’re leading are confident, able, and dedicated administrators with wisdom and insight of their own, then together you will build a stronger foundation for your school.

“By investing in others, you’re investing in yourself.”–Ryan Kahn.

Some of the strongest teams are those composed of different generations. Skill and wisdom gaps can be supplemented by learning and growing together. It is your job to break down any hesitations and fears of seasoned employees and establish a safe environment where everyone feels confident and comfortable to learn from one another. It is also your job to establish a culture where newer hires feel secure in reaching out for guidance and insight from seasoned faculty and administration.

The same concept applies for how departments work with one another. Conceptual schools understand that siloed departments are a thing of the past. Listen to your directors' concerns, and encourage them to work together with others to optimize outcomes—encourage them to listen to one another. Great mentors understand the power in listening and are able to encourage it in those they’re instructing.

Being a great leader is also about being a role model. Actually, this is the foundation of being a great Head. Just as silos are a thing of past, so is the old saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” Change your mantra: “Do as I do!” Set the bar high for yourself, because just as you're evaluating others, they’re evaluating you. Everyone looks toward your example.

If you’re not willing to listen to others, express patience, embrace what others have to offer, and remain open to new possibilities, then you can’t expect it from others. Your school is an institution for learning—and it should extend beyond those paying tuition.

Related professional development opportunities from ISM
Transformative Academic Leadership: Fostering a Growth-Focused and Student-Centered Culture
Heading the Small School
Comprehensive Faculty Development: From Recruitment to Evaluation to Retention
Teaching Excellence II
Developing Your School's Characteristics of Professional Excellence

Additional ISM articles of interest
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 9 Coaching the Coaches and Mentors
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 10 No. 1 Coaching and Mentoring Administrators
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 10 No. 10 Leading by Teaching
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 12 No. 2 Conversation as Evaluation

Additional ISM articles of interest for Gold Consortium members
Is 3600 Feedback Useful in Private-Independent Schools?

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