The Most Critical Trait of Highly Effective Edu Leaders

From Highly Effective

What Is The MOST Critical Trait Of Highly Effective Educational Leaders?

Over the last few years I have seen many posts, infographics and lists on social media that describe the traits/qualities/habits of highly effective educational leaders. For example, this article from Forbes magazine suggests that the #1 characteristic of effective school leaders is that “They have consistent, high expectations and are very ambitious for the success of their pupils;” while this post states that understanding neuroscience is the #1 habit of highly effective instructional leaders. Other lists have included phrases such as proactive, instructional leader, intelligent, experienced, a visionary and well organized. While highly effective educational leaders likely possess many important traits, qualities and habits, I think the most critical one to a leader’s personal success, and the success of the entire educational community, is having high EQ!

What Is EQ?

Google defines EQ as, “Emotional intelligence (EQ). This is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.” That’s right – highly effective educational leaders need to possess high levels of emotional intelligence. An educational leader who has high EQ is able to empathize, communicate, understand, listen and defuse potential conflicts in a proactive way. 

Based on my many years of experience, an educational leader could be the smartest person in the building and the most organized person in the building and even the most visible person in the building but if they do not have high levels of emotional intelligence I don’t think their work will be sustainable. You see, sustainability is about buy-in; buy-in is about ownership; ownership is about distributive leadership; distributive leadership is about relationships; and relationships are all about EQ.

EQ & Relationships: They Go Hand-In-Hand

Of late I have been thinking a lot about the importance of relationships in education, which we explored at length in our latest book Hacking Leadership. Specifically, I have been thinking about how relationships shape the trajectory of the school community. While I have noticed relationships being mentioned in many recent Twitter chats, I started to question if everyone was actually capable of nurturing positive, healthy and productive relationships because they don’t just happen randomly. Instead, building positive and sustainable relationships within a school community is about an educational leader’s ability to communicate well and the their levels of EQ. Truth is, many leaders may try to build relationships with the members of the community, and their intentions might even be positive, but if they don’t have high levels of EQ there will be challenges. You see, without EQ, members of the community cannot really relate to the leader and thus, the leader is unable to build sustainable relationships. Relationships are all about EQ and EQ is something a highly effective educational leader has or is lacking.

Why Is EQ Important In Education?

What I have come to understand in almost 20 years as an educator is that education should be relationship driven and data informed. Over the last decade or so, data has become the word in education – data driving instruction; data walls to track student performance; and data even deciding if a school community is deemed a success or a failure. The thing about data is that it is directly impacted by the relationships surrounding it. How teachers relate to kids; how educational leaders relate to teachers; how kids relate to educational leaders; and how families relate to the organization all impact data. Data doesn’t happen in isolation; data is a result of relationships and I believe that a successful school is much more about healthy relationships than it is about numbers, test results and data. The relationships that are critical to the sustainability and overall success of the entire community comes back to the leader and an educational leader who has significant levels of EQ will likely be highly effective in their work.

That EQ is at the core of any and all successes within our schools. Here are three examples of how high levels of EQ, on the part of the educational leader, have a direct impact on the success of the school/district:

1) When NYS released the learning modules for ELA and Math through the EngageNY site, they were being touted as a new mandate that needed to be implement ASAP. Well, those modules rolled out in one of two ways… 

Low EQ Way: the leader copied the modules, placed them in a binder and handed them out to teachers and directed them to implement them ASAP. 

High EQ Way: the leader introduced the idea of the modules to the staff; then carved out time for groups of teachers to explore/discuss the modules; the team then discussed the implications on the kids, learning and teaching; and finally, everyone considered how the modules might be integrated into the daily learning in a way that was meaningful to all and was in the best interest of the children. This plan was regularly revisited and in the end, the modules may not have made their way into the classroom.

2) One of the most recent hot topics in education are discussions about how schools can be more innovative and forward thinking with 21st Century Skills at the core of their daily work. Well, that happens in one of two ways… 

Low EQ Way: the leader calls a meeting and tells everyone that their new initiative will be innovation and 21st Century Skills. The leader also explains that everyone will be formerly observed and that their lesson should include some type of innovation and 21st Century Skills. 

High EQ Way: the leader facilitates a deep dive into the notion of innovation and 21st Century Skills over a period of time. The exploration includes blog posts being read, videos being watched, book excerpts being discussed and various staff members (and potentially students) sharing their ideas, experiences and perspectives on what innovation and 21st Century Skills might look like within the classroom. Connections are also made to other schools and educators to learn from the expertise outside of the organization. In the end, educators are treated with professional respect and encouraged to take risks in their work so that innovation and 21st Century Skills don’t become somethings on a check-off list; instead, they become a mindset and way of thinking because they are best for kids!

3) The school/district has decided to go with a new math program because the old one isn’t aligned to the standards. The roll out of the program happens one of two ways…

Low EQ Way: the leader gives teachers most of the materials from the math program (not everything was ordered because of budget constraints) and one day of PD with the company that produces the program to physically unpack the resources. At this point everyone is expected to implement the program with fidelity and all teachers will be held accountable.

High EQ Way: the leader puts together a committee of teachers that are charged with reviewing and piloting various math programs. After the pilot phase, the committee reconvenes to review feedback from families, students and teachers, in conjunction with other data points, and then makes a recommendation about what program would be best for their students. The program is then rolled out with all necessary materials and several days of PD to explore the resources and also learn about the intricacies of the program. Additionally, the leader designs the schedule to have built-in common planning time for all teachers to collaborate on the integration of the program. Finally, if funds permit (and grants are always an option), a math specialist works with the staff to help teachers build capacity as it relates to math instruction… not just this program.

The examples are plentiful but in the end, the common theme is that relationships are at the core of all successful schools and those relationships are directly related to the EQ levels of the educational leader. In my opinion, EQ is the most critical trait of a highly effective educational leader. 

What do you think? Do you agree? Is another trait more important? Please, leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on the most critical trait of a highly effective educational leader.