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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

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.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Jeff I.'s picture

I totally agree with the seven characteristics of a good leader, but would like to add trustworthy/and honest to the list. I believe that in order to be a good leader the people you are leading must be able to trust in you and put their faith in you to make the correct decisions for the best of everyone.

Richard Hopkins's picture

When I continue with my own learning and share my journey with my students I feel a trust develop. Professional learning helps me to reflect on my practices in an effort to fend off the stagnation that can set in over the years. When students observe their teachers remaining vital and engaged with their own learning the model has been presented. I feel that this encourages an environment of active learning that benefits all stakeholders.

Richard Hopkins's picture

[quote]When I continue with my own learning and share my journey with my students I feel a trust develop. Professional learning helps me to reflect on my practices in an effort to fend off the stagnation that can set in over the years. When students observe their teachers remaining vital and engaged with their own learning the model has been presented. I feel that this encourages an environment of active learning that benefits all stakeholders. /quote]

Joe Gaymore's picture

I can relate to your idea of posting this in a place I can see and reference it each day. As a Math Coach I think of myself as a leader in a soft way. Instead of asking teachers to create something that takes significant time (our calendar program comes to mind), I will often assist or do the work for the teacher instead of empowering them to do the work. I am going to work on empowering teachers! Referencing this daily will help remind me. Thanks for the great idea.

[quote]This post is very truthful and honest. I believe every leader; principal, coach, teacher, mentor, parent, older sibling, account executive, CEO's, etc. should have this list posted somewhere where they can see it each and every day. A leader needs to be reminded that, one, in fact they are a leader, and two, that they must be the example and lead with it. Thank you for your ideas and your honesty.[/quote]

wajida's picture

Excellent blog. These seven characterstics of a leader are great value to teachers, a teacher is also a leader for students. I found seventh characterstic about deep commitment an essential constituent in the composition of leadership. A very meaningful line said that performance of a leader should be judged with respect to the complexity of roles and demands of leadership. A great work by Shriver S. in theorizing the seven valuable characterstics, and by Elias for putting them in the blog and benefitting readers.

Amber's picture

[quote][quote]When I continue with my own learning and share my journey with my students I feel a trust develop. Professional learning helps me to reflect on my practices in an effort to fend off the stagnation that can set in over the years. When students observe their teachers remaining vital and engaged with their own learning the model has been presented. I feel that this encourages an environment of active learning that benefits all stakeholders. /quote][/quote]

I agree with your thoughts about students observing teachers and their own learning. I am also thinking that students observe teachers and their engagement with other teachers and administration. If students are seeing teachers using these same qualities with their coworkers and administration, students are more likely to follow along. Students who see everyone following the school rules and being held accountable if they don't, tend to follow the rules. As teachers we need to keep in mind that we are leaders in our classroom and among some of our peers, but we also need to make sure we keep in mind that we are also followers of some people (ie: administration, team leaders, etc).

David's picture

Leadership skills are essential for properly maintaining classroom management. These skills also foster student productivity and accountability. When students sense that they can take advantage of a situation or fall behind in assignments, they will use this option. I enjoyed the list!

Natalie's picture
Natalie
Parent

If you want to suggest a book for your teen to read that will support these seven characteristics, 8 to Great is THE book. It touches on every one of these characteristics, and from what I have learned about the book, kids love it. It is literally changing teens' lives. Go to www.8togreat.com to check it out!

Rhea V's picture
Rhea V
Second Grade Teacher, Port Lavaca, TX

Your blog really defines the true meaning of being an effective leader. As I read your post, I realized how important these characteristics are to good leadership. I am working to develop into a leader of sorts and I will focus on these characteristics. Thank you for outlining them so clearly and concisely.

Business coach's picture
Business coach
Business Coaching | Leadership Training | Corporate Workshops in Sydney

What we must remember when trying to expand and embrace the idea of being a leader ourselves is that leadership encompasses the field of a widely discussed phenomenon in the business world. A leader overnight is not made, created or born. The growing influence of global culture and workforce diversity makes the task of being an effective leader that much more challenging. In a very simple and straightforward manner, leadership is all about energizing people toward a specific goal.

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