In Praise of Teachers as Leaders

Being an individual performer is quite different from being a leader and requires a different set of skills that are mostly not deliberately cultivated. In the start-up world, many people become founders, not because they are great leaders or managers, but only because they love creating products. Teachers, on the other hand, are unique. The skills, knowledge, demands and experience required to be a great teacher can also make them great leaders. In fact, the attributes of a good teacher are basically the same as that of a good leader.


Attributes of a Good Leader

Leading requires considerable interpersonal skills and tact. To assume a leadership role, one needs expertise in data analysis, curriculum planning, and assessment design. Teachers tend to exhibit these important skills as part of their role, thus showing dispositions and values ideally suited for leadership roles. They can bring into organisations their ability of creating a culture which can mobilise the commitment of people towards a goal. 


Ability to Mobilise People and Build Consensus
As Michael Fullan writes, the litmus test of all leadership is whether it mobilises people’s commitment to putting their energy into actions designed to make improvements. Leadership really is an individual commitment; however, it is a collective mobilisation and the ability to collaborate with others by establishing credibility and trust among colleagues. Teachers are respected for their instructional skills and the influence and respect they command from their colleagues derives from their practice and expertise. In order to enhance a programme, they are able to mobilise the efforts of their colleagues in many different ways, and enlist them to support their vision. They retain the skill in building consensus among diverse groups of people, and convincing them of the importance, as well as the feasibility, of their general plan for improvement.


Motivating People and Calling them to Action

Teachers have the ability of energising and calling people to action. To inspire their students to do their best, teachers know the specific systems, structure, and social norms to implement, in order to create enthusiasm and interest in the classroom. In organisations they are able to use these interpersonal skills to build systems, norms, and structures necessary to motivate colleagues, build community, attract talent, and drive the team towards a collective mission.

Teachers are usually open-minded and respectful of the views of others. They tend to display optimism, enthusiasm, decisiveness and confidence. In fact, the skills of a teacher extend beyond the classroom.


Setting High Expectations
Basically, teaching is about the well-being of a student. In order to help their students set aspirational goals, teachers not only know how to set high expectations, but also teach their students the skills they need to achieve those goals. They clearly and purposefully plan out the knowledge and skills their student will need to master in order to become successful in school and in life. As leaders, teachers are able to set high expectations for their colleagues and plan activities that are necessary in creating the conditions for them to meet and exceed those goals.


Focusing on Important Aspects
Teachers have the ability to sift through various things and narrow down upon the important ones that really make a difference in the life of the student. They recognise the need to focus on aspects that will bring about important gains in the learning of their student. Bringing this ability to leadership, teachers know when to sacrifice short-term gains in support of the long-term advancement of their organisation. As leaders, they know how to plan for the success of their organisation’s vision and mission by prioritising the really important things. They make important decisions that are in the long-term interests of their organisation and set their focus off potential distractions that may prevent the organisation from achieving its goals.


Consistent Development and Perseverance

Teachers tend to be great masters in turning a vision and strategy into action and they meet deadlines every single day. They often work in very difficult environments, and do not allow setbacks to derail them or stop them from helping their students to achieve their goals. In leadership this unique ability permits them to creatively sidestep, or drill through, difficult situations and obstacles.

In pursuing initiatives, teachers learn constantly and become adept in the process of continuous development. When their student fails, they do not blame the student. Instead, they find much better ways to provide better coaching, as well as resources, to help the student succeed. They are willing to try different approaches if their first effort runs into a roadblock. They are unafraid to change whatever they need to, in order to improve. In fact, teachers tend to be great leaders, who are able to persevere until they get the job done.