Three Ways to Walk the Talk as a Passionate, Authentic Leader

This post was collaboratively written by Paul Erickson, Principal in KS, and Nathan Lang, former administrator & current education consultant in Nashville, TN.

As leaders, we are hyper-cognizant of how our messages are communicated and perceived. Our change efforts may be thwarted at the first sign of incongruent messaging. When a new idea emerges, we are obviously excited at the potential and may be tempted to jump before thinking through the nuts and bolts. When communicating our passions, it can become unfortunately viewed as empty platitudes: a “chicken soup for the soul” without the chicken and too much broth. Is being passionate and authentic mutually exclusive?

We don’t believe so. Here are three ways that you can be passionately authentic, inspiring your circle of influence to act instead of “like/RT/heart.”

  1. Back it up w/ data. When we say data, we’re not talking about data in the traditional school leadership sense, but as historical leadership data. How have you historically taken an idea and turned it into a reality? How have you historically pronounced a direction and then followed through in walking in that direction. Before making your next bold statement, do a background check on yourself to first determine how credible you’ve been with follow through. You’re being judged not by your idea, but by how you’ve acted on it.
  2. Ensure your home team is feeling your message. Branding works effectively when your school family embraces your message. Sure it’s a positive ego stroke when your global PLN retweets your message 100+ times, however, there is no tangible impact on the students and staff you serve if they aren’t embracing your message to the same degree. We challenge you to monitor your tweets for a week using this guideline. If you drop a quote or share a blog and no direct colleague retweets or likes your particular post, delete it. The attention from your global PLN might feel good, but its influence is infinitesimal. If your home team isn’t cheering for your message, it is not worth sharing. Passionate and authentic leaders are embraced by their local PLN because what they promote is backed up by what their staff and peers experience. 
  3. Commit to choosing “we” over “me.” Passionate, authentic leaders walk their talk by focusing on one goal–building group capital.  While they are relentlessly committed to learning, they realize that their passions, interests, and areas of study are only worthwhile if they motivate and impact the community of learners they serve.  While it’s tempting to frame ourselves as transformative edu-heroes, the only real superpower lies in the group of educators we lead.  Teacher Collective Efficacy, teachers learning together and having confidence in their group competence, has an effect size of 1.57 (Hattie, 2015).  This trumps anything we as leaders can accomplish on our own. Therefore, the challenge is to continually reflect on this question–Whose efficacy are you building in your leadership efforts?  Yours or the group you lead?

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google once said “Passionate people don’t talk about passion. They live it.” We would further express that passionately authentic leaders inspire through their messaging, but invoke transformation through their actions.  They leverage the cause to produce an effect. They say it. They do it. They live it.

Hattie, J. (2015).  The applicability of visible learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1 (1), 79-91.

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