Leading for Results means speaking with your authentic voice

Leaders’ authenticity is a significant source of influence in creating school communities with unity of purpose and clarity regarding the means by which those purposes will be achieved. (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

We grant authority to people we perceive as “authoring” their own words and actions, people who do not speak from a script or behave in preprogrammed ways.

—Parker Palmer

One of leaders’ most important tools is their “authentic voice.” With their voice leaders offer to the school community their unique perspective and the passion that fuels their work.

Leaders diminish or lose their voice when they:

• withhold their views on important issues;

• say one thing and  do another, or express different views on the same subject in different settings based on their audience;

• are perceived by those they lead as reading from a script prepared by others rather than expressing their genuine views on the subject at hand.

Somewhere in my development as a leader I came to believe that successful leaders empowered others by “facilitating,” which I interpreted to mean withholding my perspective on the matter at hand so as not to exert undue influence on decision making. Expressing my views, I thought, would squelch the thinking of others and diminish their contributions.

But in recent years I have come to a different view. While I continue to see value in leaders’ facilitative skills, I also more fully recognize the significance of leaders’ “voice” as a fundamental and irreplaceable part of improvement-oriented conversations and decision-making in the school. By voice I mean leaders’ clear and genuine expression of the intentions, ideas, beliefs, values, and emotions that inform their work.

Effective leaders, I believe, bring their authentic voice into every conversation in which they engage—meetings, professional learning settings, and one-to-one interactions with teachers, parents, and students. The expression of leaders’ voice, however, doesn’t mean that they direct, persuade, or sell their ideas. Instead, they use their voice to engage others in the spirit of inquiry, learning, and mutual influence.

Without integrity and authenticity, however, leaders’ words lose their potency. Integrity means that leaders can be counted on to be honest and to do what they say they will do. Authenticity means that there is a match between leaders’ genuine views and what they say and do each day. Because their intentions, ideas, beliefs, values, demeanor, words, and actions are aligned, these leaders offer hope and guidance to the school community.

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:

Cultivate your voice to serve students.

Strengthen your leadership practice by . . .

• gaining clarity on your views on important subjects through writing and sustained conversation with colleagues;

• striving to be direct, honest, and respectful in all your dealings with others;

• looking carefully for inconsistencies between what you really value and think on the inside and what you express to the outside world;

• seeking feedback from trusted colleagues on the clarity and authenticity of your voice; and

• developing a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this essay. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

3 Responses to “Leading for Results means speaking with your authentic voice”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott February 15, 2010 at 8:43 am

    My six-word leadership tool:

    Facilitating does not mean self censorship.

    “Instead, they use their voice to engage others in the spirit of inquiry, learning, and mutual influence.”

    I like that.


  1. 1 Explain where you stand in a sentence « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on April 23, 2010 at 4:06 am
  2. 2 Relate, repeat, and reframe to promote change « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on May 3, 2010 at 4:39 am

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