Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courage to Lead

     I was recently asked to give one word that I felt best described leadership. When asked a question like this I try to clear my mind and let the question find the answer. The word "courage" tumbled across my lips and intuitively it made sense.
     The dictionary defines courage as "the ability to do something that frightens one". While this definition touches on aspects of the work we do as educators, it does miss being a complete fit. I've always felt that the balance of being a confident leader is to not be inconsiderate.  It is this aspect of self-doubt that is often a hallmark of strong leadership.  It is the skill that allows for acknowledgement of the good work being done coupled with the ability to confront current realities.  We live and work in an environment that is defined by change and we have a responsibility to respond to that change.  The greatest things I did early in my teaching career have little contextual reference today.

     Positional power can be misused and set the work of a school back. Roland Barth talks about the significance of the relationship between Principal and teacher as being the greatest contributor to school success and the driver for all other relationships in a school ("Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse", Educational Leadership, March 2006,Volume 63, Number 6). The balance then, comes in engaging all who have a stake in the outcome in the conversation of why changes need to occur and what those changes might mean.  It's important to have all of the information at your disposal and to be prepared to have your thoughts challenged.

     Courageous leadership is not limited to the formal positions defined in school district but instead, is displayed across the system.  Recent blogs have highlighted great teacher leadership and powerful leadership lessons learned from our students. The power of two students in Nova Scotia to challenge bullying based on perceived sexual orientation spawned a wonderful celebration in schools across our country where we all don pink and think about the impact of our actions.

     Courage should not be used as a weapon to blindly charge forward. Instead, it must be balanced with the perspective that comes from walking in the shoes of others and being open to having their experiences influence the final outcome.  If I have developed any skills as a leader in my twenty-eight years of being an educator, it is because of the contributions of others that have emboldened me to be courageous in the face of significant challenges. Thanks.


  1. Tom, thanks for sharing. I agree that courage is vital for leaders, but I would argue that courage without integrity can be dangerous. Without integrity, courage could be self-serving and misguided. Integrity ensures that choices are in the best interest of all.

  2. Thanks Darcy. I think we're on the same page and I like your choice of the word integrity. I was framing that in the aspect of self-doubt which, for me at least, generates that same quality of reflection before potentially heading down the wrong path.