How leaders “show up” matters

Photo/Dennis Sparks

Most leaders are unaware of the intensity of their ability to shape the climate of the workplace and to influence the attitudes of the people who work there. They may choose to influence in such a way that the people working there feel as if they are making a contribution or just taking home a pay check. Every action, every gesture and every word out of a leader’s mouth can influence in a positive or a negative way; either way impacts the bottom line. —Mary Jo Asmus

One of the best parts of being a teacher is when students seek you out many years later to thank you for something you said or did that was particularly meaningful to them. Sometimes I can barely remember the student; often I can’t remember the exact words or events for which for which he or she is expressing gratitude. But the words are heartfelt as former students recalled experiences that were incredibly powerful for them.

School leaders, of course, have a similar influence on both young people and adults, an influence that is often unknown to them in the moment but whose effects may be felt over many years and in the lives of countless individuals. For instance, principal may have an exchange with a student in a hallway in which she expresses faith in the student’s ability to get back on track after some difficulties. An instructional coach has a conversation with a colleague after which the teacher feels more hopeful about the situation and more capable of solving the problem.

What leaders believe, understand, say, and do on a daily basis matters, particularly given the scope of influence that many leaders possess. They can create clarity in the school community or sow confusion, offer hope or promote resignation and despair, inspire through their compelling purposes or discourage through their cynicism.

How leaders “show up”—the moral purposes, ideas, values, attitudes, and emotions we bring to our work—can affect others in countless ways. The choice of how we show up is ours, a choice we get to make each day and each moment of the day when we remember how our words and actions influence the lives of others.

4 Responses to “How leaders “show up” matters”

  1. 1 Mike September 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

    How true. In the fast-paced pressures of the job, leaders may find themselves reacting to events with desperation. Relationships may suffer. Feelings are hurt. Animosities develop. Work suffers. A leader has to center himself and know that his/her words and actions make a big difference in how well an organization operates. When I look back I can identify words and actions by my bosses that had a lasting influence on the organization and on me.

    People are watching.


  2. 2 Jim Knight September 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I’ve been reading Robert Sutton’s Good Boss/Bad Boss, and in the book he says that leaders have no more than a 15% impact on productivity. It seems to me that in schools it is a lot more than that. Leadership, I think, absolutely essential for schools to move forward. Leaders who show up, I think, despite Sutton’s comments, make a huge difference.

  3. 3 Dennis Sparks September 20, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Well said, Mike! And I agree with you, Jim. In my experience leaders can and do have a powerful effect on schools, for good or ill.

  4. 4 Nicolas Rivas September 27, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I would say as educators we all share a big responsability of not only teaching these kids the topics related to the subject that we teach, but also moral values, attitudes, and everything that deals with human behaviour…and wether you believe it or not we do it every day even without noticing and it is because we become role models for them. So the things we do and say, good or bad, are repeated by them.

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