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The Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader

| Maurice Elias
Image credit: Thinkstock

Updated 01/2014

How can we determine not only who is a competent leader, but a good leader? Some, like Tom Lickona of the Smart and Good Schools Initiative, believe the proper distinction is between moral and performance character. The former typically refers to having sound values, to be oriented toward an ethical way to behave; the latter refers to the essential importance of having the skills -- particularly SEL skills-- to carry out one's values.

What does this mean for leadership? From a social-emotional and character development (SECD) perspective, it means that the skill-based performance of leaders must be judged along with the character of that performance. And how shall we judge that character?

Sargent Shriver, whose leadership credentials are unrivaled in American public service, believed leaders must act and infuse their organizations with:

1) A sense of purpose: The values of an organization must be clear, members of the organization should know them, and they should exemplify and uphold them in their own actions.

2) Justice: Everyone in an organization should be held to common standards, with rules and procedures that are clear, firm, fair, and consistent.

3) Temperance: A leader must strive to maintain a proper balance of emotions; Shriver did not mean that leaders should be dispassionate. Quite the contrary- but there are time for passionate advocacy and times for quiet reflection and reconsideration. Balance is the key.

4) Respect: The dignity of each individual is the concern of any leader, and this is preserved by treating all members of the organization with respect and ensuring they treat one-another similarly, regardless of differences.

5) Empowerment: Leaders are just that- leaders. Most of what happens in organizations is carried out by individuals other than those in formal leadership positions. Therefore, the more skilled they are, the more they feel confident in their abilities and competent to make decisions, raise questions, see new possibilities, and disagree respectfully with others at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, the stronger and more successful the organization will be.

6) Courage: Leaders are paid to set direction, not wait for direction to emerge. They have to be willing to follow their convictions and bring their organization to new places. In education, this is most sorely needed in response to the test-based regimen that has taken over our schools at the expense of true education and social-emotional and character development.

7) Deep Commitment: Leaders must not be polishing their resumes, but rather should have deep commitment to their organizations, the advancement of the organizations' missions, and the wellbeing of everyone in them. It is this deep commitment that makes leadership in schools so challenging, because it requires a commitment to every employee, student, and parent.

The performance of a leader must be judged by his or her skills and the character of his or her performance in the many and complex roles that leadership demands. Using the seven cornerstones of leading with character, derived from the life and work of Sargent Shriver, educators and those concerned with education have a tool for both evaluating and improving leadership competencies along both moral and performance dimensions.

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Leader in the Classroom

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As I read this blog, I felt convicted as a teacher and that I was not demonstrating the above characteristics to my best ability. A teacher is a professional and must treat students as members in the educational organization. My classroom is my personal organization to which I must display deep commitment, justice, courage, and respect. I must maintain a sense of purpose at all times and a proper balance of emotions, and increase my leadership skills. I liked the comment about how teachers are paid to set direction, not wait for it to happen. Teachers make decisions based on values and knowledge when implementing the curriculum and content. We must take students to new places and teach what they really need to know to survive in life. So many stick to the "script" and teach to the tests, hurting students more.

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