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Next-Generation Leadership

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Bryan Goodwin, chief operating officer at McRel wrote an article in the April issue of Educational Leadership entitled, "A Principal's Success Requires People Skills." He states, "Principal's success, job satisfaction, and willingness to see the job through appear to hinge on their people skills." This is true for superintendents as well.

The Met-Life Survey of the American Teacher reported that teacher morale is low, principals report they are under tremendous stress, and most teachers are not interested in moving into the principalship. Particularly in times like these, classrooms need stellar teachers, and buildings and districts need inspired leadership. Pre-service teacher education programs are bursting with students who are expecting to enter our classrooms as new teachers; simultaneously, we are abolishing positions because of diminishing resources. What a state we are in. Where will the next generation of school leaders come from? They probably won't come from the private sector nor from non-profits nor the professions. Most likely they will come from where they historically have...our classrooms.

Teachers in most states are now required to change the way they teach. The content is new, the tests are new, technology must be newly used and resources are dwindling. Within this environment those of us concerned about the next generation of leaders have choices. We can continue to encourage those who have demonstrated success in the past or we can discover and encourage those who are showing creatively and agility, who are not losing heart, and who have competence and people skills that will engage followership.

Picture this. A highly skilled school bus driver is driving a school bus, filled with children, across the country. Parents and school leaders have confidence because of the level of experience the driver possesses and the outstanding record for safety. He has made the trip successfully before. Now, halfway across the country the rules change. He must drive on the other side of the road with the steering wheel on the other side of the bus. Some expect this talented man will make the shift effortlessly. But it doesn't happen that way. A part of his brain must activate in a new way. His instincts come into play. His level of attention must be precise and unwavering. The children must contribute more by being at their best. And, hopefully, he won't be driving in highly congested areas until he gets the hang of it.

This is similar to what we are asking our current leaders and teachers to do. But, among us are some who will make the shift more easily than others. And there are even some for whom it will be exciting. There will even be a few for whom dormant energy is released. They will become contagious change agents with the success of their children. It will be as if they are finally allowed to drive on the side they were meant to be on. It is these we need to find and encourage. They may be the ones who have been living on the fringe. Now they come to center stage. We might even need to protect them as their comfort with the new way will make others uneasy. We must not let them fall victim to popular pressure to return to the old way. As a system we are being asked to jump off a cliff without knowing how long the fall. We want there to be some among us who are risk takers and who might have done this before.

There are some who are naturals; those who have the heart, courage, brains, the will, the grit, the tenacity, to get the job done well. And there are those who could do it if we invested in them. Herein lies the challenge. We will be looking for them primarily among our millennials, that generation popularly characterized as seekers of achievement but also as overly self-confident, self-absorbed (Pew Research Center, 2007) and lacking in loyalty and work ethic (Marston, 2009).

Our next generation leaders are in our classrooms. Which ones will serve us best in these times? Moore and McGowan writing for Forbes said "Today's organizational leaders are facing accelerating rates of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, all of which are showing no signs of slowing down... Our current environment requires a constant state of innovation. For companies to continue succeeding, next generation leaders must be able to handle any curve ball thrown their way. Next generation leaders have to be agile."

And so we are searching for those committed educators who love children and learning. Who see the potential in every child for great things and can bring it out of even the most challenged among them. They are eager to try driving in the new way, or they may be reluctant but successful, and they have people skills and are agile. Let's invite them to share leadership with us.

Our challenge is to face the frontier of a new way while holding together those who make the journey with us. Our own skills on this growing edge are untested. There is much to learn. But, leaders have a responsibility to develop the next generation of leaders. In this regard, we consider everyone a potential leader. We need to be leading and watching for the next leader at the same time. Our work is to nurture the environment in which they can test their abilities with our support. The next generation of leaders is in our midst. It is our responsibility to help them discover their leadership potential and to encourage their evolution into the type of leaders we need next.

Other Resources:
Educational Leadership, October 2011. Coaching The New Leadership Skill
Phi Delta Kappan, April 2013. The Next Generation of Teachers

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.
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