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Leadership Advice for the 21st Century

Leadership Advice for the 21st Century

Life is funny isn’t it? Sometimes something completely unexpected reminds you of something that is vitally important. That happened to me this week.


I went to see ‘Strictly Ballroom – The Musical’ directed by Baz Luhrmann and based on the much-loved Australian movie of the same name. There is a scene where the hero is reminded not to live in fear; that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. It sent a lightening bolt through me as I remembered facing my fears when I started my first Headship in 2000.

Here’s what I’ve learnt about Successful Leadership in the 21st Century:

  1. You can’t lead anyone if you can’t lead yourself. Your creative thinking, problem solving, energy levels, mental health and relationships all depend on it. Exercise regularly, eat well and meditate. Meditate at least 4-5 times a week for 10 – 20 minutes. There is now plenty of neuroscience research showing mindfulness improves our performance. I suggest integrating it into your curriculum too.
  2. People value the qualities of integrity and confidence. Be confident, yet compassionate and approachable. Be a role model of the school’s mission and vision. Be visible, ask questions, value what you see and give honest praise for effective teaching and learning practices.
  3. Develop authentic professional relationships with students, staff and parents. Listen carefully, show you are interested and try to discover if there is an underlying problem or issue that you or your team can solve. Immediate action taken to solve problems is always seen as positive by the school community.
  4. You are 100% responsible for everything that happens in your school, even when difficult personal life situations come along. Don’t blame or complain in any situation, instead ask yourself,  “What is my responsibility with this problem. What actions can I take to improve the situation?”
  5. Understand that the bottom line in any school is learning and the #1 reason you are there is for the students. Make decisions based on what is best for the students and student learning.
  6. Time is precious. Focus on the important, not the urgent. Focus on what needs to be achieved to improve student learning, student engagement, student motivation and student well-being.
  7. The importance of creating a professional learning community. Research best practices for 21st Century teaching and learning and ensure the school has a professional development plan in place for teachers and parents. Quality teaching is the best way to improve student learning so help your teachers be the absolute best they can be.
  8. Unleash talents. Your teachers, school leaders and students are talented in many ways. Offer opportunities for teams to showcase their diverse talents by trialing or piloting innovations. Empower everyone at your school to take on new challenges. Remember to lead from the heart and be there to support if something goes wrong, gently role-modeling that we actually learn the most from our most difficult challenges and facing our fears.
  9. Recruit “can-do,” forward thinking and positive people. Don’t be afraid to employ people more intelligent or capable than you or with a different personality or learning style. Different thinkers often see issues/solutions from different perspectives, which can be extremely advantageous. Empower formal and informal leaders. Trust, and delegate responsibility.
  10. Use social media and student-led initiatives to communicate the wonderful achievements of your students, teachers and community to the world. Inspire, motivate and empower all in your school community to be the best they can be and to be passionate about a greater purpose beyond themselves. Service programs integrating sustainability concepts must feature in your school.
  11. Understand that your school must cater for 21st Century learners: Generation Z and Generation Alpha kids. They are more intelligent, more globally aware and more technologically savvy than any previous generations. They are global change agents! Get a team together and plan some actions, both short and long-term, to create an innovative and entrepreneurial 21st Century School with technology amplification, flexible learning spaces and personalized learning programs.
  12. On-going learning and research is essential. Read and learn from the experts: Zhao, Marzano, Fullan, Hattie, Goleman, Huffington, Drucker, Senge, Costa, Sandberg, Kim, etc.  Attend and present at conferences. Collaborate with other attendees and interesting innovative leaders.
  13. Actively seek inspiration. Go for a walk, listen to music or immerse yourself in nature to inspire your thinking, creativity and ability to solve problems. Why not ask a 15 year old to download songs they think will inspire you onto your iPod!
  14. Remember your ultimate goal is to leave the school in a better place than you found it. Think creatively and strategically; work with your school board to create a new flexible strategic plan to drive the school successfully into the future.
  15. Never forget how important your family and friends are to you. Make times in your daily and weekly schedules for those most dear to you. Remember, on your deathbed these are the people with whom you will wish you had spent more time. Make sure you plan those times now!
  16. Seize each day, Carpe Diem! Face your fears and see them as opportunities to learn and grow. Give it the best you’ve got and one day you will be surprised by the leader you have become.
  17. Enlisting the services of a leadership coach who you admire and trust is essential. It can be lonely at the top!
  18. Feel the moment! A good musical, play, dance, concert or movie can unleash your creative ideas. Why not go and see ‘Strictly Ballroom – the Musical’ or download the movie!

For more information about Leadership Coaching or 21st Century Strategic Planning contact Maxine at Think Strategic for Schools to outline consultancy packages to suit your needs.

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