It Starts at the Top!

The principal’s role in building a leadership culture.

By Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD

Welcome back to a brand-new school year! It seems that we all bounce into a new year with lively anticipation and bold dreams. Very often as the year wears on, however, that anticipation wanes, and dreams grow dim. Everyday urgencies take the place of audacious visions and hijack both our time and energy.

This year, the Administrator’s Corner will feature a series of articles related to creating and nurturing a vibrant and effective leadership culture in your Catholic school. Building a strong school culture is key to achieving success and satisfaction for everyone in the school community.

Building and transforming culture is a highly complex task. It requires vision, planning, and unwavering commitment on the part of many people in the school community. The Catholic school leader is key in the design and development of the school’s culture.

Five ways great leaders create a culture of leadership

Recognize that it starts with you! Effective leaders know the importance of the leader and respect the widespread effect their actions have on the school community. Too often I see Catholic school principals who do not trust their own ability to attract and encourage others. Although being a humble leader is important, we must also become more honest and confident about the need for us to provide direction for the school, students, teachers, and parents. It is essential that you, as the school leader, embrace your role as a primary influencer in the school and act and speak with integrity at all times.

Create a clear purpose. Research on creating vibrant cultures suggests that bringing everyone together to create a shared vision actually increases the likelihood that the vision will be carried out. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. While it is necessary to involve others in creating a shared vision, it is also true that the vision for your school must begin with you! According to MIT researcher and organizational scholar Peter Senge, a shared vision must emerge from one’s personal vision in order for participants to become committed to it. The lesson for leaders, then, is to begin by identifying and clarifying their vision. Clear purpose helps fuel drive and passion for everything the leader does. The leader’s vision resonates with others who communicate organizational values and vision in a way that brings people together to support a common vision.

Build trust. Leaders reinforce the culture and values of the school community daily through their words and actions. You may have seen the sign that simply says: DWYSYWD. That sign is a reminder for leaders to “Do What You Say You Will Do.” Following this simple advice presents a leader as a trustworthy person: one who is seen by others as deserving of their confidence and loyalty. In this era of rapid change in almost every aspect of our world, it is more important than ever for members of our school communities to feel that they can always trust us to think and act with integrity. I have found that leaders who are able to “take the high road and do the right thing,” even when facing the biggest challenges, gain the trust and loyalty of those they serve.

Practice self-awareness. It is impossible for leaders to create changes in school culture without being willing to change first. As leaders, we must be open and honest with ourselves before we can hope to drive culture change in others. Although this is not the easiest thing to do, I have seen it have a strong positive effect on school cultures. In a nutshell: Leaders need to change first in order for schools to change.

Understand the change process. How you approach and manage the change process is just as important, or possibly more important, than what you want to change. Reflecting on my own experience with change, I have found that the most important outcome has been the strong, lasting relationships that were created. It takes time and patience to bring a school community on board with change, yet the benefits of change done well are endless. It is critical for any of us involved in leading a cultural shift to understand that aligning with strategies for the school’s desired culture, minimizing negativity, and creating a rhythm of forward movement are all key elements of the change process.

As you begin this journey of cultural change, remember to take a good look in the mirror, reflect on your own willingness to change, and seek out ways to learn more about how the change process actually works. Finally, remember that any change begins with you! I wish you well in your journey to create a vibrant culture in your school.

Image credit: Shutterstock 96055733

Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD, is an educational consultant at the University of Dayton.

Image credit: Shutterstock 96055733

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