19 Qualities of Superior Academic Leadership

Vol. 14 No. 5

heads eletter Vol.14 No.5 leaderfish

Leaders often possess a raw, natural charisma and energy, being the centers around whom others naturally congregate. But, there are distinct qualities which conscientious leaders—particularly academic leaders—actively cultivate to better both themselves and those around them. These people are the ones for which you should watch as you enter this year’s hiring and promotion season.

Academic leaders:

  • Keep the students’ well-being and the school’s mission as the first and foremost points to consider in any action or decision made;
  • Adhere to every school policy to bolster community morale and demonstrate humility, in that they are not “above the law” they enforce;
  • Commit themselves to the groups of people they have been assigned to lead and work with the tools at hand, without publicly bemoaning lack of resources or caliber of coworkers;
  • Look for ways in which to improve without being goaded, taking the proverbial “bull by the horns” before it’s make-or-break time;
  • Expect interpersonal conflict to occasionally arise, and handle it directly and professionally;
  • Admit that they don’t have all the answers (as no one can be omniscient), but they know how to find the information that is needed;
  • Take time for themselves, to avoid burnout and participate in professional development;
  • Seek out peers with whom to compare solutions, consider different perspectives, and maintain a supportive network;
  • Know their personal management styles, and how they operate within different departments;
  • Present their views appropriately to various community stakeholders, adjusting the delivery for best reception;
  • Ask questions to find out more information in delicate situations;
  • Act as a representative of the school at all times, even when “off the clock;”
  • Understand the difference between orders and suggestions, using the former when necessary and the latter to bolster autonomy of trusted associates and employees;
  • Create goals and benchmarks against which to judge performances, keeping evaluations fair while driving constant improvement;
  • Coach those for whom they are responsible, approaching evaluation as a way to improve rather than a way to punish;
  • Celebrate the successes of the individual and the community;
  • Acknowledge failures and faults, neither belittling them nor obsessing over them;
  • Enforce direct actions, even when they’re difficult, awkward, or uncomfortable; and—most importantly—
  • Love their jobs—even if they don’t always like it every moment of every day.

Did we miss a central tenet of leadership that you feel is vital to the role? Go ahead and tell us what you think every academic leader should generate in the comments below!

Additional ISM resources:
Research: The Private-Independent School Headship: A Management and Leadership Xcellence Formulation
Research: ISM Research Report: 16 Characteristics of Head Leadership
The Source for School Heads Vol. 10 No. 1 Coaching New and Returning Division Heads

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 9 The Committee on Trustees and the Leadership Funnel
I&P Vol. 39 No. 6 Leadership Findings: A Review
I&P Vol. 38 No. 7 Distributed Leadership in the 21st Century School
I&P Vol. 29 No. 15 The Head's Role in Developing Leadership

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