The Basics of Successful Leadership

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Across various types of organizations, including schools, there is compelling evidence to suggest a group of common leadership practises relied upon by successful leaders in various fields. These practises can be thought of as the basics of successful leadership. Alone, these basics may not be sufficient in the complex world of education and student achievement, but they are integral to the establishment of foundational practices. These basics include setting direction, developing people, and redesigning the organization.

1. Set Direction

Evidence suggests that those leadership practices included in Setting Directions account for the largest proportion of a leader’s impact. This set of practices is aimed at helping one’s colleagues develop shared understandings about the organization and its Research suggests that one of the most important elements of successfully leading in any context is the ability to set organizational direction. Setting direction allows for all individuals to share the common understandings that guide goal setting initiatives, dictate development activities, and facilitate the realization of an organizational vision.

People are motivated by compelling and challenging, yet achievable goals

  • Goals help people make sense of their work
  • Goals help people to find a sense of work identity

Leadership practices that help to set direction:

  • Identify and articulate a clear vision
  • Foster the acceptance of group goals
  • Create high performance expectations
  • Monitor organizational performance
  • Promoting effective communication throughout
  • Development of shared organizational purpose

2. Develop People

The degree to which organizations can influence the successful development of its people, and in turn their efficacy, is substantial. While having clear organizational objectives related to an individual’s work can affect levels of motivation, more is required for significant growth in capacity.

Capacities and motivations are influenced by

  • Direct shared experiences between leaders and followers
  • The immediate organizational context

More-specific sets of leadership practices significantly and positively influencing these direct experiences include:

  • Offering intellectual stimulation
  • Providing individualized support
  • Providing appropriate models of best practice and beliefs

3. Redesign the Organization

The degree to which schools can effectively foster learning is directly related to the motivations and professional capacities of teachers and school administrators. Sometimes the structures put in place by policymakers can have a negative effect on otherwise progressive motivations. For example, the necessity for administrators and teachers to meet high stakes testing can negatively impact educators’ intrinsic motivations.

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall

It has been shown that financial support based on the achievement of standardized goals can have a negative effect on educators’ sense of student well-being.

Successful school leaders find ways to not only support the performance of students, teachers, and administrators but, to also implement strategies that ensure sustainability

Specific practices typically associated with redesigning an organization typically include

  • strengthening school cultures
  • modifying organizational structures
  • building collaborative processes

Successful school leaders will also ensure that the purpose of organizational redesign initiatives are aligned with the ever evolving organizational improvement plan, and that these initiatives are themselves malleable.


Resource: Wallace Foundation: How Leadership Influences Student Learning