The Essential Qualities of an Effective School Leader

High school teacher gives student a high five
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Great leadership is the key to success in any school. The best schools will have an effective school leader or group of leaders. Leadership not only sets the stage for long-term achievement, but it ensures that there will be sustainability long after they're gone. In a school setting, a leader must be multifaceted as they deal with other administrators, teachers, support staff, students, and parents on a daily basis. This is not an easy job, but many administrators are experts at leading the various subgroups. They can effectively work with and support every person at the school.

How does a school administrator become an effective school leader? There is not a single answer to this question but a blend of qualities and characteristics that yield an effective leader. An administrator's actions over the course of time also help them to become a true school leader.

Lead by Example

A leader understands that others are continuously watching what they are doing and how they respond to certain situations. They arrive early and stay late. A leader remains calm in times where there may be chaos. A leader volunteers to help and assist in areas where they are needed. They carry themselves inside and outside of the school with professionalism and dignity. They do their best to make informed decisions that will benefit their school. They can admit when a mistake is made.

Have a Shared Vision

A leader has a continuous vision for improvement that guides how they operate. They are never satisfied and always believe they can do more. They are passionate about what they do. They are able to get those around them to buy into their vision and to become as enthusiastic about it as they are. A leader is not afraid to expand or to scale back their vision when appropriate. They actively seek input from those around them. A leader has both a short-term vision to meet immediate needs, and a long-term vision to meet future needs.

Be Well Respected

A leader understands that respect is something that is earned naturally over time. They do not force others around them to respect them. Instead, they earn others respect by giving respect. Leaders give others around them the opportunities to be their best. Highly respected leaders may not always be agreed with, but people almost always listen to them.

Be a Problem Solver

School administrators face unique situations every day. This ensures that the job is never boring. A leader is an efficient problem solver. They are able to find effective solutions that benefit all parties involved. They are not afraid to think outside the box. They understand that each situation is unique and that there is not a cookie-cutter approach to how to do things. A leader finds a way to make things happen when no one believes that it can be done.

An Effective School Leader Is Selfless

A leader puts others first. They make humble decisions that may not necessarily benefit themselves, but instead is the best decision for the majority. These decisions may instead make their job increasingly difficult. A leader sacrifices personal time to help where and when they are needed. They are not worried about how they look as long as it is benefiting their school or school community.

Be an Exceptional Listener

A leader has an open door policy. They do not dismiss anyone that feels that they need to talk to them. They listen to others fervently and wholeheartedly. They make them feel that they are important. They work with all parties to create a solution and keep them informed throughout the process. A leader understands that others around them have potentially brilliant ideas. They continuously solicit input and feedback from them. When someone else has a valuable idea, a leader gives them credit.

Adapt to Change

A leader understands that situations change and are not afraid to change with them. They quickly assess any situation and adapt appropriately. They are not afraid to change their approach when something is not working. They will make subtle adjustments or scrap a plan entirely and start from scratch. A leader uses the resources they have available and makes them work in any situation.

Understand Individual Strengths and Weaknesses

A leader understands that it is the individual parts in a machine that keeps the entire machine running. They know which of those parts are fine-tuned, which are in need of a little repair, and which could potentially need to be replaced. A leader knows each teacher’s individual strengths and weaknesses. They show them how to use their strengths to make an impact on and create personal development plans to improve their weaknesses. A leader also evaluates the entire faculty as a whole and provides professional development and training in areas where improvement is needed.

Makes Those Around You Better

A leader works hard to make every teacher better. They encourage them to grow continuously and improve. They challenge their teachers, create goals, and provide ongoing support for them. They schedule meaningful professional development and training for their staff. A leader creates an atmosphere where distractions are minimized. They encourage their teachers to be positive, fun, and spontaneous.

Admit When You Make a Mistake

A leader strives for perfection with the understanding that they are not perfect. They know that they are going to make mistakes. When they do make a mistake, they own up to that mistake. A leader works hard to rectify any issues that arise as a result of a mistake. The most important thing that a leader learns from their mistake is that is it should not be repeated.

Hold Others Accountable

A leader does not allow others to get away with mediocrity. They hold them accountable for their actions and reprimand them when necessary. Everyone including students have specific jobs to do at school. A leader will ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them while they are at school. They create specific policies that address each situation and enforce them when they are broken.

An Effective School Leader Makes Difficult Decisions

Leaders are always under the microscope. They are praised for their school’s successes and scrutinized for their failures. A leader will make difficult decisions that can lead to scrutiny. They understand that not every decision is the same and even cases with similarities may need to be handled differently. They evaluate each student discipline case individually and listen to all sides. A leader works hard to help a teacher improve, but when the teacher refuses to cooperate, they terminate them. They make hundreds of decisions each day. A leader evaluates each one thoroughly and makes the decision they believe will be the most beneficial for the entire school.

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Your Citation
Meador, Derrick. "The Essential Qualities of an Effective School Leader." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Meador, Derrick. (2020, August 27). The Essential Qualities of an Effective School Leader. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "The Essential Qualities of an Effective School Leader." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).