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How to identify a 21st century school leader

Identifying leaders is easy; once you know what to look for.

Selecting leaders was so much easier thousands of years ago. It was the biggest, strongest and fittest human who was chosen as the leader. Height, muscles and a healthy body are easy to see, so it was easy to pick the leader. It got a bit harder as we got more civilized and started to wear more clothes. Turns out though, that it was still the same things stood out; the ‘strongest’ résumé from the ‘biggest’ university and the ‘fittest’ qualifications – all easy to see. Then it started to get a bit more complicated; the world started to change. Now we’re living and working in a ‘volatile, complex and ambiguous environment”. How can we identify the best leaders now? Maybe IQ is the answer? Perhaps it should be EQ? What about a list of competencies?

It turns out the 21st century way to identify leaders is by looking for leadership potential. Because as Claudio Fernandez-Araoz says “Potential now triumphs brains, experience, and competencies.

And you can easily spot this ‘potential’ if you look for “the 7 characteristics that are repeatedly found in leaders.”

Look for people who are clear

1. People who show you exactly their professional goals, both the short term and the long term. They have a clear picture of their destination and can either show you it, or describe it so accurately that you can see it too. They write clear, concise prose and don’t use jargon or acronyms.

2. People who show you what’s important to them; in their relationships, their job, their family, their career – their values and beliefs consistently shine through with punctuality, reliability and trust. You can hear it in their language and see it in the type of work they present.

 Look for people who are curious

3. People who show you they want to learn, not just information, but skills too. They not only have a ‘growth mind-set’, they also have a behaviour action set. You hear them asking questions. You see them listening to others opinions. You see them applying for courses. You see them pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone, undertaking new activities in their work and leisure time. You see them adopting new technologies and experimenting with new tools and techniques.

4. People who show you they are not afraid to ask for help; from their superiors and inferiors, as well as their peers. You hear them asking for feedback., both formally and informally, from a range of sources. You see them making links with different departments, and outside partners.

5. People who show you they go out of their way make new connections. You can see them talking affably with colleagues; they know the names of all the people they work with. You see them happily communicating with a socially diverse array of people. You see them volunteering to attend events on their own. You see other people are drawn to them.

Look for people who are courageous

6. People who show you they can develop other people by using questioning over commanding. They encourage rather than enforce, and mentor rather than mock. You see them giving others opportunities. You see them giving others credit, publicly naming them for their contributions rather than taking over and claiming everything for themselves. You see them sharing decision making as well as planning and execution. You see them helping others to achieve their potential, with a word in the right direction, or a timely question, or accurate and helpful feedback. You hear them offering to have the ‘difficult conversations’ everyone else wants to avoid. You hear them saying ‘no’ because they are not ‘yes men’ (or women).

7. People who show you they can take brave decisions; you can see this on their résumé and in what they do each and every day. They show you they are bold enough to leave ‘comfortable’ or ‘successful’ behind, in the pursuit of growth and development. They don’t rely on past reputation, they know when to move on. They keep moving forward by doing everything they say they will – they keep promises, no matter how difficult. You hear them talk about their failures, and what they learned from them, just as much as their successes.

What this all boils down to is you choose people who are clear, curious and courageous because they can communicate, learn and do. Although they may not have the experience or the skills yet to ‘be’ leaders, these are the people who have all the qualities to master the art and the craft of being a great leader in this unpredictable world of ours. These people are self-motivated, flexible learners. They possess the potential required to operate successfully in the ‘complex and adaptive’ systems of the 21st Century.

And the people with this potential are often right there in front of your face.

So identifying future leaders is easy after-all, now you know what to look for.

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