Monday, 15 August 2011

Paying Attention to Leadership Actions and Traits

Recall a time when you were particularly effective as a leader and bring to mind your actions as well as your personal characteristics or dispositions you exhibited at that time.  As you think of your experiences, it becomes clear that leadership actions and personal traits work hand in hand to support quality leadership.  From such an exercise, people report taking actions such as:

  • developing and communication a clear purpose
  • holding high expectations for everyone
  • anticipating and addressing small problems before they grow into bigger ones
  • demonstrating a deep understanding of the work
  • developing others
  • facilitating change

As they take these actions, leaders are also using personal characteristics that contribute to their success, such as being action oriented, enthusiastic, realistic, risk taking, caring, and committed.  They underscore the importance of having integrity and being a listener and a learner and willing to change minds.  What emerges from this exercise is a composite of actions and traits of effective leadership.  High performance leadership comes from balancing key leadership actions with personal dispositions that strengthen and support leadership results.

Michael Fullan (2001) writes that all of us can become better leaders by focusing on just a few key leadership capacities.  He developed a framework for leadership depicting five capacities for leaders to lead complex change. 

  • being guided by a moral purpose
  • understanding change processes
  • building relationships
  • promoting knowledge creation and sharing
  • coherence making
Fullan wraps these leadership capacities in three personal characteristics - energy, enthusiasm, and hope - that both build and reinforce the five capacities.  For leaders to achieve high performance they need their actions and dispositions to work in harmony. 


From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

28 comments:

  1. In reading this selection, one cannot escape thinking about Emotional Intelligence. Those skills that are really the supporting structure for all that we do as leaders. When we develop our EQ we are able to lead in an effective and responsive manner. When we neglect these we (and ultimately our students) pay in the long run.
    Fullan's comment about energy, hope, and enthusiasm as building blocks critical as building blocks and reinforcers of his five key leadership capacities resonates with me. I think we often focus on these capacities in our quest to "get results" and we forget the subtle emotional skills needed to make this happen in a way that is both deep and long lasting (second order) and which is also humane. I know that a personal goal that I have set for myself as a leader is to lead with optimism this year.
    I work in a school that has struggled to maintain good results and with a staff who have in some cases,been challenged by the level of change required of them to move forward. I need to really focus on what positives have been accomplished and ensure that staff feel the hope that the change that is happening is good and that their hard work will ensure that our students are becoming more effective learners and ultimately better contributors to Canadian society. This is becoming critical as we have been working hard for the last couple of years however our official scores have not changed greatly. (I believe this will take time as all teachers come on board and the new teaching practices become the norm). In the meantime, celebrating milestones with our students this year (at the completion of our TLC cycles) will be one strategy we will use to ensure that no matter how our scores come out, we still can feel good about what we are doing with our students.

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  2. Having been a school leader for some "many" years now, I like how Fullan's 5 capacities are summarized here and how upon reflection, much of those I can see in the work I have done (not trying to toot my own horn). However it was not until after an event or situation occurred, or I left one place (or others left) that I heard from them or recognized how these 5 categories worked together to bring about the solution/leadership etc. I need to remind myself of my core capacities and just continue working on each of those. Then we will see what our leadership has done. History is written by what we have done.

    K. Ko

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  3. In a society that is fascinated with self-effacement and humility, it’s refreshing to read a blog that allows for each person to take an authentic pride in work well done, in addition to a realistic assessment of our own capacity. Our E.I. our E.Q. –who we are and what we know/do come together, and competence does lead to confidence and around we go in an upward spiral. That is what the acquisition of that illusive quality, wisdom, is all about.

    There are so many articles and studies out there, all valid, all delineating different qualities of a leader at different times in education cycles of change. It takes resilience on the part of leadership to constantly recreate itself in response to changing needs. It is not easy, nor for the faint-hearted. Further, each new vision of leadership expects that all the qualities demanded of the past not be lost, but become nested into the ever widening web of competencies. It certainly does take, ‘energy, enthusiasm, and hope’ to do this on an ongoing basis… it’s why we need the support of each other to succeed both in being and in doing.

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  4. It's exciting to read each week, not just the thought-provoking articles, but also the insightful comments. A key theme running through leadership articles is the context of change. Michael Fullan refers to "leaders who lead complex change" - I believe this reminds us that if things are static, there would be no need for effective leaders, because there would be no change taking place. But this can never be the case in education - constant, consistent change is our order of business. We are always striving to incorporate the most current research on improving student achievement. So, as Jan says, it's not for the "faint of heart" nor is it for those who prefer a status quo situation.

    This article reminds us that leadership skills without the personality traits to go with those skills will not be effective. Robert Dunn always says something like "leadership without followership is useless". If you lead and no one follows, there's no point in leading! Michael Fullan's 5 leadership capacities for leading change and his 3 personal characteristics provide us with concrete ideals toward which to strive - short, sharp and shiny and worthwhile. As I think about planning the Sept. 1st P.A. day, it occurs to me that I would do well to bear this article in mind. When something goes well, it usually is not just because we are lucky, it's because we plan well, take into account the people and personalities who are essential to the work and then go ahead with "energy, enthusiasm and hope".

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  5. I believe this post is for leaders to look at times they have been successful and then to think about what specific actions and dispositions were at play to bring success. This post is about using successful leadership experiences to reflect upon and determine what made the experiences successful in order for the leader to make leadership future actions conscious as opposed to unconscious.

    A second element of this post is about being successful. That means results. If there are no measurable results (measurable by qualitative or quantitative methods), then there is no success.

    I believe this post is much less about a philosophical perspective on leadership and much more about a leader consciously choosing behaviours to bring about success at the school.

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  6. This post highlights that a successful leader is determined not only by what s/he does (actions) but his/ her character and personal qualities. I think that hope is vital for successful leadership. When I reflect upon principals for whom I have worked in the past, those that visibly demonstrated hope had the most profound impact on staff. This is reflected in YRDSB's first parameter. A strong belief that every child can learn is a vision of hope and confidence for our students. Energy, hope and enthusiasm are not only important, but can be both practiced and refined.

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  7. Change certainly has been the common thread that has run through the articles thus far. Quite simply, if, as a leader, we are not open to change - or at least able to present a hopeful, enthusiastic front in dealing with it - then it stands to reason that few "followers" will come along for the ride. I'm not suggesting that leaders should pretend to be enthusiastic when they are not, but I do believe that if time has been spent in developing relationships with staff it would be far easier to deal with the change in a no nonsense, we're in this together type approach. I'm not sure if I agree that, as others have suggested, leadership qualities of the past cannot be abandoned. Rather, as the education landscape changes so must the leadership competencies and as this happens some ways of leading that were once effective may no longer be.

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  8. Rereading the article I paused on the three personal characteristics necessary: energy, enthusiasm and hope. It is so true; those who display high energy, eternal enthusiasm and the utmost hope can go through a really rough time and come through successfully. Those I have seen who start already "bummed out" usually scrape through based upon their talent/skills but with a few more "wounds".

    Ask yourselves each morning, how am I reflecting in those three personal traits? In the middle of a situation, are we looking at it with a "glass is half empty or full" perspective. Change must start with our own personal points of view. If you always say to yourself that something is negative, you enter with a negative perspective. But how often have you entered with a positive perspective and things that everyone else said were bad, ended up being okay?!

    My challenge in this is trying to be optimistic in the face of challenges and to not dwell long on the negative aspects in leadership.

    K.Ko

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  9. I couldn't agree more Tekno. An example is the shift in attitudes near the end of the school year. It seems at this time that staff members' become more stressed out (for a variety of reasons) and the negative energy that accompanies this tends to find its way into all interactions. Closed door "meetings" and unprofessional conduct increases. I also agree that the challenge is to strive to be optimistic in the face of challenges. This is no easy task as it seems that it is easier to slide toward the negative side as a result attempting to be empathetic. I have made it a personal goal to more routinely monitor how I am demonstrating these traits.

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  10. Jamie and K. Ko, that's what I like about this article. It's easy to summarize in one page and refer to it often: 6 actions that leaders recall under successful/positive circumstances, 5 capacities for leaders to lead complex change and 3 characteristics essential for leaders. I've made a half page summary with just those points. I'm going to print it and keep it handy. Someone once advised that after an event, meeting or professional learning session, it's a good idea to reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well. I'm thinking that the actions, capacities and characteristics that Fullan identifies in this article could serve as a checklist or organizer for both planning and reflecting on times when we strive to be effective leaders.

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  11. Leadership for education, growth and community involvement necessitates a core value of integrity and hope. A leader who will be successful in this capacity can accomplish many positive changes and reach many important goals for the students and the teachers and the community. Underscoring integrity and hope and combining these core values with the leadership qualities listed by Fullan can give your leadership a natural quality. When you can hold on to these core values and keep them always in the forefront of your practice then building relationships and promoting knowledge become an energetic and joyful goal. It won't seem like you are trying so hard to accomplish your vision when you can reflect often and remember why you do what you do!

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  12. A checklist. What an excellent idea Lynne! Certainly would be a useful reference tool both prior to and post meetings. If we consider those items in planning a meeting we might better ensure our intentions are purposeful. Post meeting reflection is just as important and referring back to those same items can surely refine our relative effectiveness of leading. I love your idea.

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  13. As I was reading through this week's article- Fullan's five capacities made me think of the five domains of the Ontario Leadership Framework. It would be interesting to see how/where/if Fullan's five capacities are reflected in the OLF.

    Lynne...I really like your idea of creating a summary of this article to have handy and I think I will do the same as a quick self-reflection tool. Thanks for sharing your idea!

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  14. No question that there's a definite connection between Fullan's 5 and the Leadership Framework. When first introduced to the Leadership Framwork I found that I held in the highest priority (and felt that I could most closely relate to) the building relationships element. I feel that if we invest ourselves in trying to establish true, meaningful relationships with colleagues the other dimensions of leading seem to more easily fall into place.

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  15. Nadia, I also thought about the Leadership Domains. What seems to be highlighted through everything we read is that, as many of my colleagues have noted, leadership can be learned and one should always strive to hone and practise leadership skills. If we think of the great leaders in history and in our own times, many seem to be naturals, e.g., Trudeau, Winston Churchill, Kennedy, and here I include Bill Hogarth, Ken Thurston, Lyn Sharratt. While innate qualities may set a person on the leadership path, I believe that each also recognizes his/her strengths and weaknesses and then works on those to be successful. In fact, having had the opportunity to be present when our own leaders have talked about leadership, that is exactly what they have articulated. I remember listening in awe as Bill Hogarth talked about his "weaknesses" and how important it was to him to have identified them so that he could use his strengths to "overcome" those so-called weaknesses. That's the asset model that we need to keep at the forefront as we assess ourselves,students and those with whom we work: keep the strengths at the forefront and make use of them to address weaknesses.

    Doing the E.I. 360 was most valuable in this regard as a self-reflection tool. It gave me a window into how others view me and forced me to be very honest with myself. It also provided me with definite areas on which to work.

    Ultimately, as everyone here has noted, emotional intelligence and knowing oneself is key when embarking or continuing on the leadership journey.

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  16. Jamie, I agree that building relationships is extremely important. I would say that pretty much everything a leader does involves building relationships - with colleagues, students, parents, the community. How many leaders can we think of who were strong in many areas but lacked the relationship piece and therefore were unable to engage or motivate their staff or gain their trust?
    Some people are natural leaders and some have more 'charisma' than others. However, as Lynne pointed out, knowing oneself and using an asset based approach to build on our strengths while working on our weaknesses will help us become the most effective leaders we can be. I also rememember hearing Bill speak about his weaknesses and how he worked to overcome them...it's so reassuring to know that even leaders who make their leadership look effortless work at it.
    This brings to mind Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours" principle from his book "Outliers". I think the more situations we deal with as leaders the more 'effortless' it may look for us as well even though it takes continued work and reflection.

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  17. Paying attention to leadership traits, to me, speaks to remaining mindful of why you are doing what you do and how you will achieve what you want to do. Technique and skill is important to analyze, hone and refine. Yes, we may have intrinsic qualities to to bring to leadership such as integrity and hope and enthusiasm. Yet, it is important to remain mindful that these qualities and the proven approaches to leadership work together to bring success to your efforts. Paying attention, remaining aware, taking time to think about why you are doing what you do and how you will do it is, to me, about remaining mindful of every action you take in a leadership role and to remember to reflect, assess and plan for the next steps. As Nadia and Jamie mention, knowing our strengths and being mindful about where we need to do more work on our weaker leadership skills can certainly aid in successful efforts.

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  18. Daniella, I agree with you that being mindful of every action you take in a leadership role and to remember to reflect, assess and plan for next steps is an important part of being a leader.
    Teknoteach made a good point about those who display high energy, eternal enthusiasm and the utmost hope can go through a really rough time and come through successfully. These three words made me think of Ben Zander and his energy, enthusiasm and hope. He inspires and motivates people to be the best they can be. If you have ever seen his "The Art of Possibility" DVD then you feel the energy and enthusiasm just come through the screen. He also has a deep understanding of the work, develops others, builds relationships, has high expectations, etc. We all get in a bit of a slump sometimes for many reasons. One of his quotes is "Live in the front row of your life". When I think of this quote it always seems to help me if I feel myself falling into a bit of a slump and I can regain any energy, enthusiasm or hope I may have lost.

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  19. I also saw "The Art of Possibility" recently and agree that is applies well to the message of this article and the groups' reflections about relationships and having a positive outlook in daily leadership. The theme of change and how we can best do what we do continues to be the important message of the different articles. A continued summary and point sheet of the key concepts is an idea that I will also use for future reference. The article reminds me again that it will not be possible to implement the necessary changes for students in schools without first building relationships and having a good understanding of EI. What are the strengths of individuals? What are their interests? Do they feel valued? The leader must have followers or there is no leaderhip as has been stated clearly.

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  20. It was ironic that right after I read this post, I found out that a great Canadian leader, Jack Layton, had passed away. When I thought about characteristics that described him, I thought about Fullan’s “energy, enthusiasm and hope” which described him to a tee. Bob Rae just described Jack Layton as a “resilient leader” (CBC, 2011) since he always fought hard to overcome obstacles. I believe a leader has to be all of these and probably more. Leaders have to be guided by a moral purpose as Fullan says. I believe also that leaders have to be positive and optimistic so they can be resilient. I agree with the idea of energy since it can be contagious.

    Personally I think leaders should have an inner sense of reason and direction. I often feel that when staff in my department or students approach me with an issue or problem, that I have a certain way to approach it which is mine alone and is based on what defines me as a person and speaks to my values and aspirations.

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  21. I really liked what Taro said about being reflective of what worked in our capacity as a leader. The metacognition piece is important because it helps us to define and refine our thinking based on the circumstance. It is important to note that one way of thinking doesn't define our approach all the time and that different circumstances should call for different ways to deal with them.

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  22. I see energy, enthusiasm, and hope as the arrows in the recycling symbol. All three components are interdependent to each other in producing strong leadership. In my experience, energy can be affected enthusiasm and hope. School is a complex community and school leader within can easily drain out of energy. Enthusiasm and hope can help building long lasting energy for leader to maintain.

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  23. In a 2006 publication "Quality Leadership-Quality Learning" Michael Fullan writes about the research findings of successful schools and the leadership: "The key initial question is what is school capacity? Capacity is the collective power of the full staff to work together to improve student learning school wide. More particularly, school capacity consisted of five components working together: individual skills and dispositions of teachers; a professional learning community (defined as the quality of ongoing relationships among teachers, and between teachers and the principal); coherence or focused effort; resources (time, materials, access to expertise) and the principal." This sounds a little daunting. Imagine ensuring that all of this proven research becomes what you, as a leader, must pay attention to for success! What makes it all seamless is the leader's intrinsic qualities of enthusiasm, hope and energy. What do these three qualities have to do with ensuring successful learning in schools? It comes down to, once again, transparency and integrity! Show others who you are and why you are. Enthusiasm is contagious. Energy is contagious. Hope is contagious. All of the research findings to which you must "pay attention" to for successful leadership will be what others want, as well, if you can present with a contagious passion for what needs to get done! Think about teaching in your classrooms and how your energy waves through to the students. You can build power by building capacity.

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  24. I like the relationship idea of showing the connectivity of energy, enthousiasm and hope in the symbol used for Recycling. All of these traits feed and support each other. There is a high level of interdependence. I also was very saddened by the passing of Jack Layton and in many peoples' recent comments and reflections, these character attributes were clearly attributed to Mr Layton. It is interesting that a person I had not met but that obviously was a very public figure could invoke so many peoples' empathy and respect. He appears to have lived by a code of ethics and leadership principles that many people recognized in him and highly repected him for. Enthousiasm, energy and hope were easily recongizable as part of this man's character.

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  25. Daniela, I appreciate your comment that energy, hope, and enthusiasm are contagious. We need to keep in mind that negativity is also contagious, and from my observations is faster paced and harder to undo. Think about how negative rumours fly fast, but accolades are more sluggish. As leaders we need the vigorously demonstrate energy, hope and enthusiasm in order to fend off lethargy, dispair, and pessimism.

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  26. Upon further reflection of engery, hope, and enthusiasm, I wonder if these attitributes can be linked to charisma? Charisma makes at leader very popular, but is not enough on its own. Charisma along with solid thinking and practice can be extremely effective.

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  27. A leader should be reflective. It is wonderful if you have all of the qualities of an effective leader, however it is even better if you are able to reflect on your interactions to see how to better use your capabilities to enhance performance. Knowing the qualities that are important is one thing....knowing how to use them is another.

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  28. Developing your purpose or goal is the essential starting point. If you have no idea where you are going or what you want to achieve you can't "lead" anybody anywhere. Setting the vision and understanding where you want to take your colleagues and why is vital to ensure buy-in.

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