Think about the greatest leaders of modern times, figures like Tim Cook, Indra Nooyi, Sir Richard Branson, Cheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, and Carl Icahn. How do they do it? They are innovative, charismatic, insightful, and they somehow manage to get more accomplished in a year than it may feel possible to accomplish in a lifetime. The truth is that while these individuals are all innately talented visionaries, they often share that they have learned to adopt habits that 10X their impact and productivity. If you want to accelerate your success in 2021 — adopt the following proven habits of highly successful leaders.
1. They Lean on Subject Matter Experts
The most powerful and influential leaders do not act alone. Instead, they build teams around themselves with experts that bring a variety of vital skill sets. Consider these historical figures: Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman, Neil Armstrong had Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. When the wisest leaders face a challenge, they turn to their resources and collaborate on a solution.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: Select the most accountable, capable, and reliable people to fill crucial roles in your district, such as your principalships and other senior administrative positions. When you are leading a project or initiative, avoid the tendency to accomplish everything on your own. Instead, ask your team members to step in and support your efforts in the areas where they are most skilled, whether it be school board negotiations, parental communications, budgeting, or student discipline.
2. They Read Every Day
You encourage your students to embrace silent reading, and you should do the same. Hundreds of the world’s most successful leaders have written advice on overcoming challenges, leading with empathy, building successful teams, and finding comfortable work-life balances. Learn from them by reading their books. Also, read the news to stay informed about the events impacting the world around us. The best leaders are engaged in their communities and world events.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: If time is against you and sustained silent reading daily is a hurdle, consider podcasts or audiobooks during your daily commute.
3. They Tackle The Biggest Challenges First
Procrastination is the enemy of achievement. In a position where your progress is highly scrutinized by faculty, staff, parents, and even students, it can feel tempting to put off those projects or initiatives that will require the most significant effort or the largest cultural shift to be successful. Resist the temptation to do what feels easiest. Instead, tackle the projects and aspects of your position that challenge you the most. Facing challenges helps you to grow and improve. No school district is perpetually perfect. If you feel complacent in your career and are not evolving or making positive progress, then you are not embracing challenges and improving your leadership capabilities.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: If you are dreading making a phone call to an irate parent, make it your first task of the day. If you need to implement a new policy and are unsure where to begin, rally your team (see number one above) and hold a kickoff brainstorming meeting to help you get started. No matter what you challenge that you face, tackle it first, and without delay.
4. They Over Communicate
This phrase does not mean sharing information that should remain within your office walls freely with all faculty and staff. It means regularly maintaining open lines of dialogue with your key stakeholders, including your board members, faculty, staff, and community members. When a new policy, program, or initiative is set to impact students and staff, proactively share the necessary information, including why your district is making a change. People will feel more confident in their leaders if they feel that they understand the motivation and purpose behind decisions. Give people as much transparency as is appropriate, and you will earn their trust in return.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: Commit to regular updates via emails and newsletters, hold one-on-one meetings with your direct reports and group collaboration sessions with teachers. If you have to stop and wonder if you should share an update with an impacted group, then you probably should. Find the proper means to share the message without significant delay.
5. They Focus on Long-Term Success
Genuine leaders do what is right, not what is easy. That means that they focus on long-term success, not on easy wins that can be gained from immediate band-aids or simple solutions. The most successful leaders understand that to achieve monumental change, you have to build momentum and buy-in from all impacted parties and strategically execute a plan by starting with a foundation for success. Not only does a success strategy predicated on sustainability benefit your staff and students by ensuring consistency, but it will also enables you to leave behind a legacy of success that will set your predecessors up to follow in your footsteps of achievable leadership.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: Again, it all comes down to the team discussed in number one above. Long-term success requires buy-in from stakeholders and a support team that shares your vision and is as committed to your goal as you.
6.They Learn from Mistakes
For highly driven people who expect to achieve greatness, this is possibly the most challenging aspect of successful leadership. When driven people fail, they tend to look outward instead of inward to find the reason why. They want to point to outside factors and roadblocks that others erected in their path as the reason why they fell short of their goal. When you fail (and you will, and it is okay), ask yourself what you could have done differently to avoid the outcome. Perhaps there were barriers beyond your immediate control, but knowing that, how could you have avoided them or better navigated them? Also, learn from the mistakes of others. This tactic is where collaborating with your fellow leaders from other school districts will benefit you.
How to leverage this leadership tactic: After every crucial project or initiative, hold a reflection session with your team where you assess what went well and what you could have done better. Be honest with yourselves. Your errors may have been negligible (perhaps you would change your communication approach slightly) or significant (perhaps you missed critical deadlines that resulted in financial implications). By acknowledging these errors, no matter how great or small, you will be better aware of how to plan and act accordingly in the future to avoid such challenges.
Some people are born with natural charisma and vision and inherently excel at leadership. However, even these individuals need to learn to channel their capabilities to maximize the outcome of their efforts. As a leader in your district, you must never stop growing, challenging yourself, learning, and refining your skills. These are the same expectations that you would have of your students and your staff. By holding yourself to the same standards, you will elevate your leadership abilities and become the mentor and leader to whom others in your administration aspire to be.
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.