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If it’s all about confidence then what role do leaders play in creating the foundation for confidence? In Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that as leaders, we are responsible for both the hard and the soft of leadership – the structure and the soul as she puts it.  As school or district leaders, this is how we create the foundation of confidence for our teachers.  Kanter writes:

Leadership is not about the leader, it is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else. Leaders are responsible for both the big structures that serve as the cornerstones of confidence, and for the human touches that shape a positive emotional climate to inspire and motivate people.

The hard of leadership is providing the structure, the systems and the routines that create a consistent experience for the adults we work with.  It’s about sharpening the collective vision and creating purposeful opportunities for everyone to be involved in the development of that vision.  The hard of leadership is about establishing predictability in how things are done and ensuring that the vision for the school or district remains clear.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success.  Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. (Stephen Covey)

The soft of leadership is the soul – the human touches – that deepen relationships, establish trust, and create a collective loyalty toward the team and the vision of success.  It’s the little things that make people feel valued, encouraged, and confident that they are part of something important.  As much as we drive the vision (hard) we must come in behind that vision with support (soft). 

My take on what Kanter suggests has always been that No one gets off the hook, but no one should be left unsupported. Let’s break that into two parts.

First, no one gets off the hook. As leaders, we have to establish an environment where no one gets a pass on being current.  We wouldn’t accept that in so many other professions – surgeons, lawyers – and teachers are no exception.  Of course you can’t makesomeone change.  The point is that you, as the leader, never waver from the expectations that teachers be the very best they can be and that their practices reflect what we now know about learning.  It’s not okay to opt out; it’s not okay to take a pass.

However, no one should be left unsupported. For some, change is difficult and we must be patient as people come to terms with what the vision of the school is asking of them.  We have to support our teachers by removing the barriers (real or perceived) that keep them from taking the first step.  We have to recognize that everyone is along the change continuum and it may take time for some to come along with us.  That has to be okay. Some people need more support; others are more independent.  As leaders, we must recognize the individual needs and have reasonable expectations for when they will put both feet in. Maybe they are not sure they can do it; maybe they don’t want to.  Either way, our role as the leader is to find out why, provide the necessary supports, and encourage them to keep an open mind.

If we only provide the structure – the hard – then the vision could drive a wedge between us and our staff. We will be asking them to take professional risks without allowing for the messiness of those risks. If we only provide the soul – the soft – then everyone feels comfortable and supported along a journey to nowhere.  If we provide both, we create the foundation for confidence through a positive emotional climate that inspires people to push through their own perceived ceilings of excellence.


(Originally published on January 30, 2011 at

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Comment by Tom Schimmer on April 5, 2011 at 12:23am
Rosienne, thanks for taking the time to comment...I really appreciate what you had to say. No matter how independent we are (or think we might be) we can always use the support and encouragement of the system which is most often the responsibility of leaders.  Leaders create the conditions that give teachers the confidence to do the things they are inspired to do.  I went into administration to is the necessary part of the job, but leadership inspires me to be better everyday!
Comment by Rosienne Farrugia on April 4, 2011 at 1:44pm
Hi Tom, as a primary school teacher in an educational system that is becoming increasingly demanding and challenging because of the ecologically diverse classrooms as well as standards of accountability imposed by everchanging policies, I cannot but agree with you on how important it is for administration to 'lead and inspire' rather than 'manage' - what a big difference it makes for a teacher to feel s/he is changing her practice as part of a community of teachers rather than doing it in isolation.  Even when a teacher is fairly independent, innovative and task-oriented in implementing the changes needed in her practice, she definitely needs a system that is supportive so that everyone in the school moves in the same direction.  Otherwise, such efforts will end up being lost - just like a drop in an ocean.  Thanks for your post.  Thoroughly inspiring!
Comment by Tom Schimmer on April 2, 2011 at 10:29am
Thanks Steve.  I agree with your thoughts.  It's easy to raise expectations - much more difficult to raise support to that same level, however, it's necessary for leaders to create the kind of "risk-taking" environment we all desire.  Thanks for taking the time to comment!
Comment by Steve Bollar on April 1, 2011 at 3:16pm


Great post. I agree, it is a careful balance between accountability and support.  Make sure everyone is supported properly and clearly know the expectations.  Once the expectations are clearly stated and realistic, there must be a method to maintain accountability.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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