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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Aspiring leaders are asked to define their style of leadership when interviewing for positions of increased responsibilities.

As the stakes rise and the work becomes increasingly more complex, the desire to perfectly match districts and their lead leader intensifies. Getting it right is more important than ever. In the age of COVID, Rich Thome, a partner at Leadership Associates, an Executive Search Firm, has never been busier. created hundreds of leadership profiles and recruited superintendents for 380 School Boards, has never been busier. Rich has created hundreds of leadership profiles. According to Thome, most school boards are looking for leaders with communal emotional and democratic characteristics, “Leadership in education today is about getting people to follow you. You do not get there by authoritative command, it is about building teams to get the job done. You get there by letting everyone in your charge know that they matter, that they are important, and that they are valuable to your organization.”

Thome himself has conducted over 70 searches. A former superintendent himself, he defines his leadership style as transformational. While interviewing candidates to bring before school boards, Thome and his colleagues search for evidence that the candidates are who they say they are….in other words, it’s one thing to define yourself as one type of leader or another, it’s entirely another thing to have demonstrated it, especially under fire or when the heat gets turned up.

While different situations call for different styles of leadership, the most coveted attributes align to styles most closely resembling transformational and strategic leadership.

Transformational leaders are trained to create safe work environments easily identified by examples of the humane aspects of leader-follower relations. It’s a style evidenced by high degrees of unity, cohesion, and commitment; and measured by high job satisfaction and low turnover. Innovation is rewarded and risk taking encouraged by transformational leaders. Strategic leadership is similar since this style of leadership is typically associated with leaders who carry the burden of the organization to ensure the work environment remains stable for everyone else. This is common in education where superintendents often have to form a barrier to protect staff from the vagaries of elected officials and highly charged political environments.

Most leadership styles are defined by behaviors that range on a continuum from most to least restrictive: Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Transactional, Strategic, Democratic, Transformational, and Laissez-Faire.

As I’ve written in my blogs about emotional intelligence and leadership, the authenticity of a leader is paramount and supersedes all styles and approaches to leadership. Who you are as a person is who you are as a leader. As the stakes rise on the corporate ladder, the more “who you are” gets exposed.

I have observed leaders whose behaviors belied their self-defined leadership style. This alone is one reason why human resource professionals have to rely on their instincts and gut feelings too when vetting candidates. Highly qualified search executives are HR professionals. They balance the functional requirements of the job with the leadership traits and characteristics that will make the candidate not only the best qualified, but the best fit too.

While the best fit is usually secondary to qualifications and competency, there are circumstances when competency becomes secondary. In my experiences, many of those cases do not result in happy endings.

Once the profile of the leader has been identified, the task focuses on evidence that the style, skills, and experiences the leader identifies with actually exist. Even HR professionals are fooled sometimes. Savvy leaders can morph themselves into whoever they believe they need to appear to be to get the job or get the job done. In the short term they may very well succeed. But over the long term they will be exposed because who you are as a person is who you are as a leader, and the eventuality of that emergence is inevitable.

At the highest levels, only competent (highly qualified) candidates are even considered for most positions. And virtually all highly qualified candidates operate from a position of professional authority (guide the way) or moral authority (shared values and norms driven by a common vision and interdependence) or a combination of the two. Operating from a position of bureaucratic authority, psychological authority, or technical authority are neither fashionable nor coveted attributes in today's leadership market and are rarely identified as desirable in leader profiles.

Ethical leaders do not appear to be anyone other than who they are. They know that the likelihood of their success rests primarily on whether or not they’re the right person at the right time for the right job...because failing at the highest level is professional suicide. Second chances are not common. Given that, being true to your suitor, your leadership style, and yourself will always position you to succeed.


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