There’s currently a burst of young and new leadership in education. The variety of leadership roles in education—instructional coach, assistant principal, director, superintendent, and several others—can be enticing to take on. You can’t completely understand the challenges that come with leadership roles until you’re actually doing the work. It can be challenging enough regardless of a person’s age and experience, and it can be even more so for young leaders or those who are new to leadership.
Despite the innovative ideas and plenty of energy, there are just some areas and thought processes that new leaders simply haven’t experienced yet. Believe me, there are types of personalities you didn’t even know existed that you’ll have to learn to supervise. In addition to that, some insecurities or past hurts can also surface while you’re leading. Therefore, it’s important to go into leadership with self-awareness regarding your background and values.
Consider the following five steps to help you become a more confident leader.
There could be people who believe that you don’t belong in your leadership position. Some might even think that you’re too young or you haven’t had your time in non-leadership roles. You were created to lead in this educational era. Your compassion, paired with your ideas, is absolutely needed to take this generation to the next level.
Opportunities come because they were meant to happen. Accept your role as a leader, and disregard those who might not be cheering for you. Don’t try to prove them wrong. Simply focus on leading in a manner that’s authentic to you.
I found my place of belonging by embracing my uniqueness—my background is in school social work. Accepting that my experiences and perspectives are different from those of most administrators allows me to view them as a strength. This is important because most districts want their leaders to have different perspectives and experiences.
In practice: Try getting involved in conversations even when your perspective is different from others in the room. When you’re at that meeting or training, don’t be afraid to respectfully use your voice and share your insight. The organization needs the diversity that you bring.
2. Be Resourceful
As a new leader, you might be unsure if you can trust or rely on your own decision-making. This is especially true when you don’t have a decision bank or past experiences to choose from. Don’t get caught up in excessive worrying about being fired or not. Accept that you will make mistakes and that you’re learning. There are resources and people that can help. Reach out to a trusted and more experienced leader for support. You might not have much experience that you can pull from, but you do have a skill set that can help you locate a solution.
In practice: Take a proactive approach, and identify three people who’ve agreed to mentor you informally or formally. Schedule meetings with them or let them know that you will contact them with questions. Find out if they prefer a quick phone call, email, or text.
I found mentors by showing that I have a desire for growth. When I admire someone’s work style, I ask for a one-on-one meeting to connect and learn from their experiences. Also, if I come across an article with practical steps for resolving a problem, I bookmark it. Even if I’m not currently experiencing that particular issue, I might face a similar challenge in the future.
3. Be Humble
You might have believed the illusion that leaders can tell people what to do and they just do it. This isn’t the case, especially in public education. You’re a part of a unit with multiple stakeholders and collective bargaining agreements to follow. Lead by influencing others with kindness and integrity, not with your title. No one is an expert in everything. Your staff will have valuable ideas and feedback.
In practice: Build relationships with your staff. Stop by their classrooms and break room just to chat and check in on them. Keep goodies in your office, and invite them to stop by. When you can, involve them in decision-making by asking for their opinion and expertise. Then, implement their ideas (when possible). They’ll appreciate your efforts toward inclusivity.
My faith keeps me humble. I use it to inspire my actions as a leader. Regardless of a person’s spiritual beliefs, most people go into this field to serve others. Considering what’s best for others instead of myself never leads me astray from remaining humble.
4. Be Reflective
You might find it helpful to keep a journal during the first few years in your leadership role. Make note of incidents that you could have better addressed and those where the outcomes were successful.
In practice: Reflect and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I do what was best for students?
- Did I react off emotions or respond based on facts?
- Do I need to restore that relationship? If so, how?
- Do I need to follow up tomorrow?
- What could I have done differently to promote a better outcome?
On my drive home from work, I often reflect on my day. I also practice journaling regularly. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to write my truth about something instead of speaking it aloud. Somehow, when you put things on paper, it’s easier to find clarity.
5. Be Present
New leaders are often looking to what’s next and not soaking up the moment. It is common for young and new leaders to be ambitious. You got to this point in your career as a result of your determination. However, that same drive can also be a negative characteristic when not used with wisdom. Seek to gain patience and contentment with your accomplishments and current stage in your career. Enjoy the highlights as you accomplish them.
In practice: Keep a log of your small wins and major wins. This will remind you that you are making a difference at your current place of employment. Celebrate after you accomplish your goals—for example, get together for an enjoyable dinner and outing with family and friends. The point is to acknowledge what is going well to help create gratitude for where you currently are. Being present also means not dwelling on the mistakes. After your initial reflection, let it go and move on.
Staying present is challenging for me because I like experiencing new things. Awareness of my body and emotions helps me to remain present. Thinking too much about the future can sometimes cause me anxiety. When I notice that I’m anxious or my body is tense, I slow down and regroup by bringing my mind back to the present.
No school year in leadership is the same. There will be hills and valleys. Staying confident in your decision-making and seeking assistance when needed will help. With time, some aspects of leading will become second nature. Things will get easier, and you will find your areas of specialty. People respect leaders who are confident, courageous, and competent. Displaying those characteristics with humility and grace will leave a lasting impression.