Some of us see ourselves as leaders. Some of us do not. Yet, the truth is that we are all leaders, regardless of whether we see ourselves that way. If we are interacting with others, we are leading.
As educators, leading is a difficult role for us to avoid. Every day students look to us to understand what is expected, what is important, and what is unacceptable. Colleagues listen to us, learn from us, and follow our example. Parents and others look to us for advice, guidance, and ideas they can apply with their children.
Leadership is commonly defined as influencing the thinking, perceptions, and behavior of others through words and actions. This definition describes our work.
Examples of ways in which we lead abound. Regardless of our awareness and intentions, we demonstrate leadership every day in at least four ways. Let’s explore these behaviors and how they demonstrate leadership.
First, when we offer an observation or answer a question, whether with colleagues, students, or others, we are putting our thinking in the shared idea and perspective marketplace. We might find that what we say resonates with others. Or our words may generate disagreement. Regardless, we are influencing the thoughts, perceptions, and potential actions of others. Interestingly, even when we choose not to offer an observation or respond to a question, and leave our thoughts and ideas unrevealed, we still may be influencing the response of others. They may perceive that we don’t think the topic is worth engaging. Or they may wonder if the subject is too emotion-filled and we are choosing not to share the intensity of our feelings. In either case, our choices and actions are influencing others and we are exercising leadership.
Second, when we take an action, we send a signal about what we value, what we care about and what we think is worth our time and energy. Others observing our action may read a message, feel an urge to join us, or choose to counter our effort. This is leadership. Remarkably, when we choose not to act we still hold the potential to influence the thoughts and actions of others. They may “read” our inaction as being motivated by our perceptions, priorities, or purposes. This, too, is leadership.
Third, when we step forward to support or reinforce the words and actions of others, we add weight to their efforts and increase their impact. Our engagement may lead others to commit and take similar action.
Fourth, when we ignore the words and actions of others we are sending a message. We may be denying attention to unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. As a result, the action is not reinforced and may be extinguished, especially if the goal was to garner attention. Or our lack of response may be read as tacit approval. Again, regardless of our intention, we are influencing, and leading.
These influences are present and active everyday with our students, our colleagues, parents, and others with whom we interact. We lead in our roles as educators throughout every day. Being unaware does not change our role, nor does it diminish our influence. If fact, we are all leaders. We need to embrace the role, use our influence to make lives better, and add our leadership to improve the organizations of which we are a part.