Every organization must have a built-in plan to develop, grow, or attract future leaders. Current leaders will not be around forever and the lack of a plan can lead to organization wide chaos when the day comes for them to leave. Not all leaders will or even should come from inside the organization but some should. This is true for several reasons including maintaining the culture and consistency of direction. Leaders from outside have advantages as well including new and fresh ideas as well as bringing an excitement to employees. I have recently completed our organizations two-year “leadership academy” aimed at developing future administrators or teacher leaders in our district. I will focus on the good, bad, and ugly ways to go about developing internal leaders in a district.
Treat Future Leaders like Future Leaders
One of the most profound mistakes an organization can make is to tell someone they are valuable or give them a certain responsibility but then treat them with a lesser regard. Once people have been identified and chosen for training in a leadership program or academy, treat that group as if they bring value to the organization as leaders. If your leadership teams meet and train in the same manner as your first-year trainees then they won’t feel valued. This is no longer just “staff development.” The conversations, communication, and interactions should be elevated to reflect the high stakes analysis and decision making that these people are preparing for. Sitting in a class listening to a teacher talk about a leadership book or theory and then writing a reflection is stripping these future leaders of an opportunity for authentic experiences. The conversations should be deep and analytic. Leadership theories should be torn apart, looked at, and reassembled in ways that fit their organization. Change the mindset and elevate leadership training to the level it deserves.
Provide Authentic Experiences
I talked a little bit about avoiding the “classroom” setting for leadership training. District level and building level leaders do not sit in classrooms. They sit in conferences, meetings, board rooms, and community centers. They do not lecture people like a 10th grade history class. They have dialog with effective speaking and listening techniques and it often involves tough decision making. Here are some ideas for authentic leadership experiences. I had the opportunity to participate in some while I deeply regret not having the opportunity for others.
- Panel discussions with current and former leaders. This was the absolute best part of my leadership academy experience. Hearing real stories from those that were there and how their decisions were made and how they impacted others in the organization. No theory, no hypotheticals, no hyperbole. Just real experiences.
- Invitations into high stakes meetings with many different stake holders. Not the public meeting that any Joe Shmoe can attend. I’m talking about budget meetings, superintendent cabinet meetings, principal lunches, or hiring committees. If these are really the people that are going to lead the organization in the future, trust them to be involved in the important things.
- REAL book studies. This is not reading a book, summarizing a couple chapters, and presenting. This is real analysis of the ideas in the text. What applies to this job and what doesn’t. Are there any problems with the research in the book? To public and private sector theories always mesh? Too often we accept the popular leadership text without really examining its usefulness or lack thereof.
Help Leaders Become Leaders
The job isn’t over after the 1-year or 2-year leadership training. If there are real leaders in the group then part of the experience should be to fill leadership positions. It doesn’t have to be official titles but with experiences. They should lead committees, be given projects to run, or have them create their own projects to benefit the organization. The district is not only choosing them, but they are choosing the district. If they feel like their leadership training and skills are being underutilized they will look to other districts for the experience. Help them develop resumes, write cover letters, assemble portfolios, and most important help them define their own style and philosophy. Effective leaders know about themselves first because you cannot lead others without putting yourself in the right direction.