I have been thinking a lot lately about how important it is that a leader be present. Of course that starts with a leader being visible and available, but when it comes to leadership in a school, presence means much more. It means being the heart of the school without necessarily being the centre of attention.
Let’s think about principals and vice-principals and consider what we have learned from research. Grint speaks of leadership as being a balance of person, process and position. Bennis talks about the key leadership ingredients being guiding vision, passion and integrity with others being candour, maturity, trust, curiosity and daring. Urs Bender says that leaders raise awareness, show direction, create results, demonstrate to others how to reach a goal and achieve progress that benefits others, not just themselves. Secretan writes about leaders needing to create organizations that inspire the soul. Sergiovanni, Goleman and others have taught us about the importance of servant leadership and emotional intelligence.
This list of experts and what they say could fill volumes; in fact it has. Whenever I review the literature and overlay it on what I experience every day in public education, I am struck by the key role that personality plays in all of this. Some people have an inherent advantage in leadership in that they are just born to do that work. They have the will and the capacity to lead, and if they are really effective they have enhanced those with formal and informal leadership learning combined with learning that comes with experience. The net effect of all of that is that they have real presence. People turn to them and look forward to being involved in meeting the next challenge or unleashing the next great idea, in no small part because that principal or vice-principal liberates and motivates them. Those leaders plant seeds of real and meaningful dialogue that lead to real and meangingful change. They are living in what Sergiovanni refers to as the spiritual level of leadership as opposed to (actually in addition to) the managerial and technical places of leadership.
My point here is that in my district leadership role I look for a school leader whose presence is really felt, who is a connector, who has charisma, who people admire and like to be around, who is revered and not feared, who is relevant and not disregarded, who is trusted, who inspires, who asks the right questions in the right places at the right times rather than pretending to have all the answers, who is so humble as to hardly know that he or she is who I am talking about right now . . . that’s the person I want leading schools in my district. And I’m happy to report that that is the norm in the Saanich School District.