An Introduction to Leading for Results: Assumptions About School Leadership

Leading for Results: Dennis Sparks’ Blog extends and develops the ideas an skills found in Leading for Results: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Relationships in Schools published by Corwin Press and the National Staff Development Council.

Leaders matter. The larger and more important the goal, the more districts administrators, principals, and teacher leaders matter. And because contemporary schools are faced with the very large goal of ensuring the success of all students in a rapidly evolving world, skillful school leadership matters now more than ever.

Our beliefs have a profound affect on our daily leadership practices, often in ways that are invisible to us. At the core of Leading for Results is a set of assumptions (what I hold to be true, “my truth” not “the Truth”) about school leadership, which I offer to you to stimulate your thinking about your own beliefs about leadership:

• What leaders believe, understand, say, and do on a consistent basis matters. Our circle of influence is usually larger than we fully understand.

Leaders change themselves first. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten, an old saying reminds us. While it’s human to view others as the source of problems and underplay our role in their perpetuation, failure to examine and address our own beliefs, understandings, actions, and habits all but guarantees the perpetuation of the status quo.

• Leaders’ emotions are contagious. Our emotional well-being creates either an upward flow of energy and positive relationships in the school or a slow death spiral of depression, anger, and cynicism.

• Culture trumps innovation. That means that continuous improvements in teaching and learning require that we address cultural elements such as trust, experimentation, risk taking, and teamwork, among other attributes.

• Schools face adaptive challenges for which no sure-fire solutions exist. Therefore, it’s essential that school communities invent their way into the achievement of important goals.

• Some things leaders do count more than others. That means that we focus relentlessly on a small number of actions and are disciplined in minimizing if not eliminating activities that have little effect on important goals.

• The most significant barriers to continuous improvement are lack of clarity regarding goals and methods, resignation, and dependence on others for direction and guidance. Therefore, it’s important that we develop professional clarity, hopefulness, and teamwork beginning with ourselves and spreading outward from us into the school community.

• Leadership can be developed. With persistence and patience we can acquire new habits of mind and behavior that support the school community’s most important goals.

I’ll be developing these ideas and others in future essays and look forward to receiving you suggestions either in the comment section or directly at

To extend your learning and strengthen your leadership practice

Describe in writing you fundamental beliefs about leadership. If it is helpful to you, use my beliefs to stimulate your thinking about your assumptions and offer them to other readers in the comment section of this blog and to your colleagues “back home.” Focus on what you believe rather than critiquing my assumptions. I encourage you to strive for clarity and succinctness by expressing each belief in just a sentence or two, a leadership discipline that is worthy of practice and persistence.

Also, please consider subscribing to this blog, which only requires providing an email address to WordPress, so that you will be automatically notified of future posts. (I won’t use your address for any other purposes.)

7 Responses to “An Introduction to Leading for Results: Assumptions About School Leadership”

  1. 1 Norma January 6, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    My views on leadership often make me wonder if I am even on the right track. Leadership (I think) has a lot to do with showing the humanness back to each other ALL the time. I think what I mean is that, people need to be reminded that working together means NOT imposing emotions, ideas, concerns,etc on to others but taking the time necessary (and it is necessary) to listen, observe, talk to, encourage, re-hash, investigate….(the list is endless). People in any situation need to know that they are a contributing, necessary member of the “team”, that they belong. That feeling needs to come from each other and it needs to be directed at each other, so that all members feel like they belong. Then they can risk and bring forward all the wonderful, stimulating ideas, they learn to relie on each other when they need to, and they also know that they can stand independently and still be part of the group. Leading means that (I think) we all stand together in a circle, no one leads, no one follows, no one is left out. The cirlce can expand and contract as necessary, and it can move, ….sometimes it is necessary for the “leader” (whoever that might be at the time) to show, or reflect that humanness back to the group, so that everyday we remember who we are working with.

  2. 2 Dennis Sparks January 6, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for your response, Norma. I, too, often visualize the school community standing in a circle with various people assuming leadership responsibilities depending on the situation and their talents. The ideas you express underscore the significant role school culture plays in improvement efforts.

  3. 3 MrBarns February 1, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

  4. 4 Stacy Sims February 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks.

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  5. 5 MrBarns February 7, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks.

  6. 6 Advancing the Teaching Profession May 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I find your points really interesting and they do speak to much of what I believe is essential about good leadership. I think you are right that leadership need to be self-reflective, know themselves well. This means knowing what drives our own emotions and how to manage the energy around one’s emotions. As a school leader, I have faced this issue head on many times. There have been examples when I was clear about my own emotional reaction to a situation and managed it well AND there have been other times when I failed miserably. The later comes back to bite you, sometimes in challenging ways. I agree!

    Change has to happen from within first. This is so true. I also like your idea that culture trumps innovation. As hard as a leader may try to support innovation, if the culture resists and the leader is clueless, then the innovation will not take root. Start close in.

    Finally, I really like the ideas you expressed in one of the last points about being clear about goals, procedures, and reasons for change or innovation. I think a leader’s primary task is about building a culture of support, staring with those people who are receptive and working outward. However, a leader does need to recognize when he or she may not get full support and then what to do about it. How to communicate with folks that may not buy in–this can be challenging and subvert the change. Know the culture and the players.

    Good post!!!

    Bob Ryshke

  1. 1 Shaping School Culture: A Core Leading for Results Responsibility « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on July 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

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