When we think about leadership, we normally think about people who are in management positions in companies or government. Leaders can be those at the top, such as CEOs or presidents, or they can be those at lower levels who are leading departments or functions such as our bosses or local elected officials. But leadership can be found anywhere that people are in a position to influence others. It is about what people do, and not just the position that they are in. Leaders are those who can exert positive influence over others that can improve their lives in the workplace and other settings. This is why teachers need to be leaders.
What Is Leadership?
Leadership is about influencing the thoughts and behaviors of others. Although we all have influence on one another from time to time, leaders are those who groups of people look to for guidance. Those leaders might have recognized positions in government or industry, but just having a title does not make one a leader. Leadership is about developing relationships with people who look to the leader for direction and information. True leaders provide a vision for what needs to be accomplished, and encourages followers to accept that vision and work toward it. A sales manager who is a leader will talk about sales goals and explain what needs to be done to achieve them. He or she will encourage employees to accept those goals and work toward achieving them. Whether they are managers or teachers, good leaders direct their efforts in two ways.
- Emotional well-being: Leaders are concerned with the health and emotional well-being of followers whether they are employees or students. This means paying attention to how each follower is doing both on and off the job. It also means being concerned about the personal development of followers. In the workplace, this means helping each employee learn and grow on the job. A leader must be seen by followers as someone who cares, and the best way to assure that followers have this belief is for the leader to care about them.
- Managing the work: Leaders do their best to manage and structure the work to make it easier for followers to accomplish goals. This means providing resources and removing barriers to success. Good leaders provide organization to the work, and coordinate efforts among followers. Followers must have faith in the ability of the leader so they are confident that following will lead to success both on the job and in school.
Why Teachers Need To Be Leaders
From kindergarten teachers to university professors, effective teaching is very much about leadership. Teachers are individuals who influence their students in positive ways. Good teachers exert leadership in four ways.
- Communicate: A good teacher, like a good leader, must communicate clearly. This goes beyond just the presentation of material to be learned. It includes communicating a clear vision of what the student should accomplish and why. Students need to understand the importance of what they are studying, why it is part of the curriculum, and why it is important beyond the classroom.
- Elevate: It is important to build students up, to enhance their self-concept and self-esteem. This is done by providing positive messages designed to inspire self-confidence. It can also be done by structuring assignments so students can have success with increasingly challenging material.
- Evaluate: Good teachers provide honest feedback about what is done well and where improvement is needed. Negative feedback is especially important. Positive feedback is important as a device to elevate students and encourage their efforts. However, if you already know how to do something correctly, being told it is correct is not advancing your knowledge. Being told something is incorrect, along with suggestions for improvement is where learning occurs. However, that feedback needs to be provided in a way that is encouraging rather than discouraging. This means avoiding a harsh and belittling tone. Good leaders know how to provide negative feedback in an encouraging way. One way is to provide specific advice about how to fix a deficiency in an optimistic way that reflects confidence that the student can be successful.
- Motivate: One of the most important elements of good leadership is motivating followers, and this is true of teachers with students. Good teachers encourage effort, make expectations clear, and provide positive feedback. When I taught introductory statistics, I knew that many students were nervous about the class and were unsure that they could pass. I would give the class frequent pep talks, acknowledging that some of them were not confident in their abilities, and assuring them that if they put in the effort, they could be successful. Many students told me on the last day of class that they were surprised at how well they did.
Teachers need to be leaders who can enable and inspire students to do their best.