The Five Qualities of Effective Leaders

Will Gilyard, Dean of Students

What makes a great leader? At a recent conference dedicated to exploring the type of atmosphere schools can create so that faculty of color will feel safe and supported at trying their hand at leadership in independent schools, I had the opportunity to join other educators in answering that question. Working together, we identified, discussed and practiced the attributes and skills that make an effective leader.

In our school’s mission statement, we highlight the importance of inspiring students to excel and lead lives of integrity and involvement. Preparing our students to be leaders is part of living out our mission. I’d like to share some insights and strategies with the larger Kingswood Oxford community.

  • Soft Skills Are Hard Skills 

With the rapid increase of advanced technologies, we tend to assume that highly intelligent people with technical expertise and specialized “hard skills” make the best leaders. 

But many organizations are discovering that “soft skills” – having a high EQ, effective communication, making connections with colleagues, collaborating with them, and respecting their differences – are equally important attributes of strong leaders. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this “emotional intelligence.” 

Effective leaders, like great teachers, are able to inspire and motivate people to achieve their best, not only because they know so much about their subject areas, but also because they know so much about their colleagues. 

  • Tell a Story 

As any successful teacher, coach, speaker or writer knows, the most effective way to explain a process or clarify a message is to tell a compelling story that invokes an emotional connection and illustrates your point. What better way to encourage your sales team to be persistent than to describe your experiences as you knocked on 500 doors before making your first sale?   

  • Ask Questions 

Too many managers think their job is to give opinions and orders. In fact, their job is to ask questions and listen to other people’s ideas. Great leaders welcome multiple perspectives and seek dissenting opinions that differ from their own. They ponder not only what people are sharing, but also why they’re sharing it. 

You’re the one who makes the ultimate decision, of course, but by incorporating different perspectives into that decision, you can enroll others.

  • Set a Goal

One of the most effective practices of good leaders is “backward design” – figuring out exactly what you want the final result to look like and then engineering a process to achieve that result. That way, as the project progresses, you’ll know how each piece and step of the plan fits into the long-term goal, and you won’t be distracted or deterred by temporary obstacles and setbacks.

So, instead of false starts and blind alleys, you know in advance just what your goal is and exactly what tools you’ll need to achieve it. 

  • Yes, you can! 

Many leaders, even those who have risen to great success, suffer from “the imposter syndrome” – a sense of inadequacy, self-doubt and feeling fraudulent that overrides any feelings of success. They feel that they’re just faking it and that someone will unmask them as frauds. 

You can short-circuit this self-doubt by pausing to review your track record, reaffirm your competence, and remember the validation you’ve received from your teachers, colleagues, supervisors, and mentors. 

Give yourself the same advice you’d give to a good friend – “You can do this, and you know it!”

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