I relish my position in front of the class. I thoroughly enjoy sharing information, dissecting the nuanced and watching for “light bulb” moments over my student’s heads. But am I a leader? If I have learned nothing else this quarter is that a leader do not manipulate, desire capitulation or subjugation. Leaders present an enlightened path. Leaders inspire others; even by those that may not want to be inspired. And lord knows students cannot be bothered to be inspired.
Despite the numerous theories we have read about, leadership qualities are elusive. There is no gene, no set of circumstance that create leaders. Just as no one is born a football player, no one is born a leader. Athletes, poker players, chefs and mechanics can practice their craft over and over. They repeat actions until mastered, place themselves in scenarios to determine outcomes and learn from mistakes. But leadership is too nuanced, too shaped by external factors and frankly, so infrequent an opportunity, that “leading” is rarely practiced. Obviously, this is a mistake. Proper leadership training is not just about leading others. It provides a personal path of development and will help shape and create the future
It could be argued that leaders are born and proper leaders will arise to an occasion. When given the opportunity, there are those who are not afraid to lead. They step forward and take on the responsibility to one of four outcomes. 1) The leadership succeeds and continues leading. 2) The leadership fails but a second chance is granted. 3) With neither gains nor losses, the status quo is maintained 4) The leadership fails and a replacement leader is found. With this minimal setup, three out of four times the leader maintains their position. So it would seem we all would have ample time to practice leadership. But that is simply not the case. There is simply not the opportunity for everyone to take a turn at leading.
But let’s say a person does succeed in becoming a leader. What training has prepared us? A football player practices…often twice a day. Poker players calculate the odds and let statistics remove the emotion from the situation. Chefs experiment with ingredients, attempting never-before-tasted combinations before unleashing their concoctions on the public. Mechanics tinker and twist until problems are solved. But leaders? There is no time to practice. We expect leaders to create great things from the word “go.”
Ultimately, how does this knowledge affect me in an educational setting? Does my updated scorecard accurately reflect the necessary qualifications to lead in the classroom? How is my effectiveness as a leader ultimately measured? That remains to be seen.
In hindsight, I do not think my ability to lead was totally missing. Reflecting on my interactions, my constructive criticisms and the vision I have for the music program, there are plenty of instances that demonstrate leadership. My email signature contains a call to action for my students, “Don’t make it for me, make it for yourself. Create.” I challenge them weekly to achieve their best. I carefully outline a path to success. Self-scoring via my Leadership Scorecard, I think I give myself a lot of fours, with a few threes. However, there are also a few twos and ones.
Here are the areas in which I need development and assistance.
1) Actively listening – I am an interrupter. I am guilty of just waiting until the other person is finished before unleashing my thoughts and not truly listening to what that person has to say. I know this. To me, this is my greatest need for growth. How does one practice? I have already started by taking a Yoga class. An hour and a half where I do not talk. I breathe. I listen. But I do not speak. For me, silence is extremely hard.
2) Communicate expectations clearly – This is an area on which I have worked a great deal. I find myself usually in one of two scenarios. A) I outline my expectations very clearly. This might include step-by-step instructions, handing out the grading rubric or walking students through the process. Or possibly I include all three. And yet I get frustrated when students are capable of completing the task as requested. This is managerial thinking – the desire for following orders.
The counter argument in wanting students to follow the set order is that the steps for success are neatly mapped out. Accomplishing the tasks in orders is necessary to move the skill set forward. For instance, most musicians do not leap in to playing jazz music. Hours of practice and immersion give great musicians the skills necessary to throw out the rules. Learn the rules, then break them.
The second scenario is that I leave parts of the equation hidden. Students may feel I am not giving them all of the information. And they would be correct. Stumbling around, making mistakes and being forced in to a new situation are all part of experiential learning. Those experiences can be truly educational.
Ultimately, there is no black and white answer that will satisfy me. Visionary, inspirational leadership and the managerial quest for order and evaluation of the learner are intertwined. The goal I have set for this coming school year is to inspire. This challenges my earlier mantra and old way thinking. I will look at my tasks and behavior as an instructor to find areas where I can interweave inspiration. I plan on seeking additional leadership training. I will seek out feedback from students and co-workers. By focusing on my leadership skills, I can marry my quest for meaning in my life and with my desire to succeed as an instructor and offer me an opportunity to move forward in a more focused direction.