Monday, July 12, 2010

The Covert Leader

I am blogging my assignments for a leadership course I am taking this summer. Here is the second one.
Identify a successful leader who has influenced your life; describe the skills, knowledge and attitudes that made him/her effective

My best friend, a teacher, a mentor and a silent leader retired this year. She was not an administrator, nor a department head; she was first and foremost, a teacher who taught me more about myself than I knew. She led, not in an overt and overbearing manner, but instead by her constant encouragement, her anecdotal stories, her positivity and her humour. Her wisdom in dealing calmly and rationally with overbearing parents would be her greatest gift to me. My friend Lillian Howe is truly an example of Covert Leadership at its best.

The Ontario Leadership Framework for Principals & Vice-Principals delineates the importance of building relationships and developing people as one of the practices and competencies required. One important skill that Lillian had which is very integral to this competency is that of “listening empathetically and actively.” She truly listened when someone was talking, and her response was always one of empathy and understanding. Lillian often referred to herself as the resident psychologist because of her gift, many staff members felt at ease in approaching her to discuss something that was on their minds.

Lillian was a discreet leader in many ways. Her voice was not loud, though it could be heard. She chaired our staff meetings and always peppered our agenda with a dose of humour. On the last two days before she was to retire, she worked tirelessly all day to revamp our graduation script in an attempt to make it more succinct. Though it was not well received by some other staff, she demonstrated an attitude of resiliency and did not carry forward any negative emotion. This is an important lesson to learn for a leader who may want to implement change but meets up with resistance. As per the Leadership Framework, a resilient, optimistic and hopeful attitude is a key attribute of a leader who will need to overcome these types of barriers.

Lillian always led by example, and modeled her core values in everything she did at the school, from contact with students and parents. She never raised her voice; she always explained her actions and insisted on respect in her classroom. She experimented with many different teaching strategies and was open to change. She was an exemplary teacher.

Although I do not possess all of the natural talent and abilities of my friend, I know that these are areas that I have to work on, in order to be a successful leader. Will I have all the practices and competences delineated in the framework when I begin? Unlikely. But by recognizing that building relationships is important, I can begin this journey. And I am up for it.

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