THE ETHOS OF LEADERSHIP
Updated: Oct 24
Leading is not apolitical. A person's values and politics influence decision-making. Sometimes consciously. Sometimes not. It's for this reason that I consider emotional intelligence in the form of self-awareness the most valued of all characteristics in the leadership ethos. When the complexity of a situation demands courage and swift response behavior, such as in times of crisis, leaders fall back on their ethos. When they do, decisions will be a reflection of their authentic self. Read my blog, The Personality Dimension of Leadership for more about this idea.
During COVID, many leaders, at all levels of education leadership, have had to examine their own identity and bring it into consciousness in the context of decision-making bounded by swirling currents of pandemic politics.
Leading across race, power, and privilege demands self-examination, regardless of one's race or social standing. So does leading multicultural and multi-generational workforces. Add the influence of powerful social and political movements and it becomes the perfect storm of leadership challenges. Given those challenges, authentic leadership, characterized by honesty, transparency, and empathy, are the traits I covet most when building my leadership team.
Someone's true self can't be hidden behind a mask. Among the reasons some leaders have cited for retiring or leaving the profession this past year is forced implementations of policies and practices that may have been antithetical to their personal and professional belief systems. A September, 2021 National Superintendents Roundtable report described superintendents as angry and disgusted with the no-win situation they were placed in as school openings, vaccinations, and masking were politicized during the pandemic.
Implementing policies that may be antithetical to a belief system is not uncommon for education leaders. For example, during the No Child Left Behind era, leaders were forced to abandon best instructional practices in favor of preparing students to sharpen their test-taking skills instead of their minds. Inclusion practices, bilingual education, social promotion, zero tolerance, and common core standards are among other examples of policies that clashed with some educators personal and/or professional values. What is uncommon is a pandemic and the political nature and consequential implications of policy decisions.
Perhaps the best examples of personal and professional values clashing with policy is the effort to racially integrate schools, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling unanimously in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case (1954) that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, followed by The Coleman Report (1966) twelve years later, revealing an equity gap that drove institutional reform. For more on The Coleman Report and its impact on education policy, read my blog, Unmaterialized Promises, Damaged Psyches, & Stained Souls. The executive, judicial, and legislative branches have all had their hands in shaping education policy.
I'm examining education policy and its implications in a study I'm conducting titled, How School Board Members' Beliefs About State Education Policymaking and Policymakers Impact the Opportunity Gap in the Age of COVID-19. I'm interested in the beliefs of local school boards related to policy and policymakers. Primarily, how their beliefs impact and influence access, implementation, and distribution of resources to limited-resourced communities for underserved students. While I'm examining the beliefs of school board members, not education leaders in this study, there is an inextricable link that's impossible to disentangle. As a homogenizing influence on institutional isomorphism, geography has few challengers.
School boards set direction (vision) and subsequently policy based on the sentiments and needs of the constituents whom they serve. Leaders operationalize that vision by effectively communicating their organization’s cultural ethos and building the emotional intelligence among its leaders to carry out the work. Given the challenge of leading in a highly charged political environment, high levels of emotional intelligence are necessary.
Leaders: Listen to your inner voice. Your capacity for authenticity will be greatly enhanced.
Read Urgency is the Enemy of Great for more on COVacancies.