(by MATHEW C. NINAN, Director, Little Rock, Brahmavar, Udupi Dt)
A nation can only be as good as its schools. No nation can rise above the level of its teachers. It is also axiomatic that leadership is the axis around which the wheel of the school revolves.
School Heads have to come out of their antiquated leadership styles. The village schoolmaster of Oliver Goldsmith is the archetypal headmaster of yore. It’s time we consigned such leadership practices to the dustbin of history. We need to awaken ourselves and be equipped with a new kind of leadership for the new generation of children who are given the sobriquets ‘generation Z’ (born 1995- 2009) and ‘generation alpha’ (born 2010 - 2024).
The new generation is cognitively and emotionally different. They started playing with smart phones even before they learned to walk. Remember, we adults pussy-footed, to reach out to mobile phones. While we are the reluctant migrants to the digital era, the new-gen children stepped into the digital world like fish to water. They are digital natives for sure, but only time will tell if they are superior to their forebears, in terms of other measurable parameters.
School leadership too has to take a quantum leap to match the demands of the new century. It has to be qualitatively different. We need a visionary leadership with a compelling purpose and vision that resonates throughout the school. It is all about the leader’s capacity to influence others positively and effectively.
‘Leadership is all about influence; nothing more, nothing else. True Leadership cannot be awarded or assigned, it must be earned’, said John C. Maxwell.
‘Influence’ is defined as the capacity to have an impact on the character, development, and behavior of someone. An effective leader therefore is one who can positively impact individuals and thereby achieve a lofty goal. Such a leader follows a clearly defined ‘road-map’.
Leading from the front: Leaders should never imagine that they are only supposed to oversee others’ working. Nothing can be more fallacious. Maxwell who defined leadership, went on to say that ‘a leader is one who knows the way goes the way and shows the way.’ For instance, a school leader should demonstrate how well he/she teaches before asking their teachers to teach well. Likewise, a leader should know every part of the school and every job there like the palm of their hand. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is a sarcastic way to describe those who do not show the right example. In other words, a leader should walk the talk. Else s/he will have no credibility, rendering oneself absolutely ineffective and redundant.
A Growth Mindset: Most leaders remain content with the status-quo. They do not want to change any existing practice. They feel that any change will involve risks. A fixed mindset like this will result in the stagnation of the institution. A leader with vision will bring in new ideas, well thought-out innovations and meaningful changes.
New Skills: A leader should possess a repertoire of skills like knowledge, communication, interpersonal, social skills etc. S/he must be a good team leader. A good leader nurtures a second line of leadership, by sharing leadership. Empowering more people would mean greater sense of belonging and ownership. A higher level of engagement of teachers will result in their going beyond and above the call of duty.
Motivation: An effective leader will be proud of their school, and is able to articulate effectively the USP (Unique Selling Point) of the School. Every school should have a USP, an exceptional quality about it. A leader should also recognize those performing consistently better than others, because recognition is a great motivator.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ): EQ is the sine qua non of leadership (Harvard Business Review on Leadership). Qualities like self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and fairness are all inherent in EQ.
Ethics and Integrity: The litmus test of leadership is this. Those in leadership should be scrupulously honest. While honesty is a personal value, integrity is how one translates the value of honesty in the cauldron of real life and its temptations. Ethics is its extension to the institutional context. A good leader practices financial probity and prudence. Remaining incorruptible is the noblest legacy of a good leader.
Abraham Lincoln said, ‘nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power’. What a meaningful statement!
Relationships: The proof of leadership is in building harmonious relationships. We cannot manage people without influencing them. We must develop deep, meaningful relationships, which will result in greater loyalty, comradeship and finally institutional progress and success.
Authenticity: Authenticity is the quality of being genuine or real. Genuineness is central to the credibility of leaders. A leader should exemplify congruity in words and actions. Thus the most valued asset of a leader is honesty in thought and action.
To sum up, ‘an institution is nothing but the lengthened shadow of one wo/man’. (E W Emerson)
(An abridged version of this article appeared in the Education Page of Deccan Herald on October 26, 2021)
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