Intentional Leadership

“In order for a shared vision to impact the day-to-day work of people throughout an organization, its members must be able to understand how their work contributes to a larger purpose. So effective leaders constantly remind people of the significance of their work and how it is contributing to an important collective endeavor.” ~ DuFour and Marzano, Leaders of Learning

There have been many journals, articles, books, dissertations, blogs, and tweets written about what makes an effective leader. I know I have spent time reflecting on my own strengths as a leader and what I can do to grow and improve. However, regardless of the skills or attributes we deem as important for an effective leader, the question of whether or not we are actually effective depends on those we lead and the actions they take. This has led me to the concept of intentional leadership.

I think about times where, as a coach or a principal, I worked hard to help teachers see their own strengths and then help their colleagues see the value in trying on a new strategy or approach that they had found to be successful for their students. I wonder if my intent was as clear as it should have been. Did the teachers truly recognize what I wanted them to see in themselves? Did they know that I was trying to empower them to be leaders within their teams? Did the other teachers recognize that I was trying to build capacity within our site? To show that we had many experts on site? Was I leading with intention or was I trying to subtly manipulate them into coming to a new belief?

I often wonder if our leadership intentions are as clear to those we lead as we think they are. If you got all of the stakeholders from your site or district together and asked them what the organization’s most important work is, or what the organization’s leader values above all else, would you hear the same answer?

In Leaders of Learning DuFour and Marzano talk about “effective empowerment”, which they say “…does not mean encouraging people to go off and do whatever they want. It means creating the conditions that help people succeed”. When I think about that in terms of intentional leadership, I think it is critical that we are clear about our vision as well as the strengths of our colleagues so that we can empower each of them, individually and collectively, to use their strengths to help us reach our vision. If we are intentional in our leadership, people know what we believe their strengths to be and know what we think they can achieve. They also know that we hope they go above and beyond our expectations, think outside of the box and take unchartered courses to reach new outcomes. When we intentionally share how we think stakeholders, individually and collectively, can help our system reach our vision, we are empowering everyone to have ownership of the work. Too often we think people know what we think and believe without us every communicating the specifics.

One way in which I believe I can be more intentional is to share my journey as a learner. We often list being a life-long learner or being willing to admit you don’t know everything, as critical skills for teachers, coaches, and leaders. Yet people don’t always talk about what they are reading and learning, or how they are expanding their repertoire. Some people spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour on twitter every day, reading information from the members of a PLN, where one tweet often takes you to a new blog or journal you’ve never seen before; I do this. Some of us spend time going back to school for more formal learning experiences; I start this again next week! Some people write a blog or publish articles or write books; I’ve started this blog. Some participate in twitter chats around specific educational topics; I am now co-moderating the West Coast #Satchat every Saturday morning! Others attend edcamps, professional workshops, or conferences; I’ve done some of this recently. Many people engage in conversations with colleagues (personally or virtually) to push their thinking or learn something new; check! One of my favorite ideas is when people write blog posts that document what they’ve been reading lately. I love to get new links from the people already in my PLN, who I respect and admire. I haven’t done a post like this yet, but it’s on my to-do list. No matter the method, it is important that we are sharing our learning journey with those we lead. No one knows it all, and if the people we lead don’t know that we are still learning and reflecting, we aren’t modeling that which we hope to see throughout our system.

It is my goal to be a more intentional leader. How are you leading with intention? What would your colleagues say was more important to you? How would they know?

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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3 Responses to Intentional Leadership

  1. cynthiaough says:

    Wow! I really enjoyed reading this. You really made me think and reflect about how I am leading with intention. You are inspiring me!

  2. Elise Foster says:

    You offer some interesting, thought-provoking questions, especially that you are willing to question the outcomes of your intentions and how clear they were to those at your school site.

    A couple of thoughts spring to mind after reading this – one is an idea from a book called Difficult Conversations around “Intention Invention.” Effectively, it talks about the assumptions we make about the intentions that drove someone’s actions/behavior and how often the original intention of the person is drastically different from what others perceive.

    The second is a book you may be interested in: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman. – Liz, Lois Allen, and I are currently writing Multipliers for Education, forthcoming Spring 2013. If you pick up the original, which has some examples from education already, would love to hear your thoughts.


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