Administration & Leadership

How to Develop Strategic, Effective Leadership

School leaders can work to understand their own and their team members’ areas of strength and weakness in order to assign work productively.

February 9, 2024
Barry Diomede / Alamy

How can principals better understand and deal with anxiety and frustration when their leadership and day-to-day work responsibilities require skill sets that they have yet to develop? Managing this is crucial because when implementing schoolwide initiatives, anxiety increases throughout the staff when the principal, and others, are ill-equipped with the strengths needed to move things along.

Patrick Lencioni’s recent book The 6 Types of Working Genius has helped me to conceptualize a model that shows principals how to better understand and deal with this anxiety and frustration.

HOw school leaders Can Apply This Model

When a school leader attempts to lead and execute any type of an initiative, from a curriculum revision to a change in student management programming (to name just two), they will lead three stages of work:

  1. Contemplation of an idea
  2. Activation of the idea 
  3. Implementation of the idea

Experienced principals know that different skills are required to fulfill each stage. Work can become very frustrating when a school leader realizes that those requisite skills are not among their strengths.

Lencioni states, “We all have areas where we thrive, areas where we struggle, and areas that fall somewhere in between.” To help leaders understand the skills needed to move initiatives from an idea, or vision, to full implementation, he identifies six specific types of strengths that move ideas from beginning to end. In each area, people perform at a genius, competent, or frustration level.

At the genius level, people find work to be joyful, inspirational, and rewarding. At the competent level, work is neither completely miserable nor joyful. It consists of tasks that are tolerable and generally completed well. But the frustration level drains people of joy and energy, and they often struggle to complete tasks in this area. If not addressed, people who toil in areas that frustrate them will burn out. Most people have gifts (genius status) in one or two areas, competence in two, and frustration with two. These are the areas:

  • Wonder—the inclination and ability to ponder the problems within a school and strategize ways to address them.
  • Invention—the gift of original, ingenious, creative thinking that results in fresh, new ideas.
  • Discernment—an uncanny judgment, intuition, and ability to assess a situation, ask important questions, and provide effective feedback in ways that others cannot.
  • Galvanizing—the ability to inspire, motivate, and enlist people to embark on worthwhile endeavors.   
  • Enablement—the ability to anticipate and respond to others’ needs and empower people in ways that others cannot.
  • Tenacity—the strong desire and inclination to push through obstacles and finish a job.

So, what is the big takeaway for principals from Lencioni’s model? If you’re consumed each day with work responsibilities that require a skill set for which you are ill-equipped or unprepared, you probably are not a happy principal. That doesn’t mean you’re failing, but you are likely exhausting yourself by taking on work that others may consider to be enjoyable. Would your assistant principal, or another member of your leadership team, be better suited to galvanize the staff to positively transform a new approach to grade-level teaming, coaching models, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, etc., freeing you to focus your time and efforts on another genius area?

Using This Model With Your Leadership Team

If you conducted a book study of Lencioni’s working genius framework with your leadership team, you could collectively identify each person’s areas of strength and frustration. You probably already know what they are. But to get people out of the traps in which they find themselves, especially principals, a serious discussion about the burdens of work and the most effective distribution of responsibilities according to team members’ unique gifts must take place.

Here’s an example of how Lencioni’s model could be applied in your school. 

  • If you were to prioritize a reduction in office referrals for student behavior and classroom management, who are the people among your staff that could easily ponder the status quo and suggest a plan for addressing issues? (wonder geniuses)
  • Who thinks outside the box? (inventive geniuses)
  • Who knows how and when to ask questions that will keep an initiative moving forward? (discernment geniuses)
  • Who is a genius at motivating people in the trenches to do the hard work needed to accomplish goals? (galvanizers)
  • Who has the unique skill set that shines most when people need help, support, encouragement, empathy? (enablers)
  • And finally, who are the people that will determinedly push your staff’s collective vision across the finish line? (tenacity)

You most likely have people in each area who you already know possess the requisite skills needed. Any work goal or priority requires people who can perform at genius level in each of the six areas. Principals cannot do everything alone.

If paperwork, scheduling, or issues with student or parent engagement consume your day and increasingly frustrate you, perhaps there’s another person on your leadership team who would be excited, gifted with skills, and tenaciously motivated to complete the frustrating aspects of work that don’t suit your natural, God-given strengths.

Making that determination is an example of identifying and defining boundaries and working smarter, not harder. It becomes an important step on the pathway toward rediscovering joy in your work. You shouldn’t feel guilty or incompetent—rather, you are effectively delegating work responsibilities among those most capable (genius) and who will likely enjoy getting them done. You aren’t abdicating responsibility. Instead, you are spreading and sharing responsibility for success.

That’s strategic and effective leadership.

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