Personalizing Leadership Development

Note: This is a follow-up to two recent posts in which I offered suggestions for a self-reflection on the key concepts leading to leadership. For those interested in continuing the exploration of leadership/followership and the related components, I‘m offering a list of resources that I’ve found particularly helpful in my leadership coaching work.

This is, by no means, intended to be a comprehensive list. Rather it might serve as a starting point for further exploration of components which you may have found interesting or you’ve identified as worthy of additional attention.

Some additional context… the importance of purpose and vision in the exercise of leadership and the development of followership


From The Far Side Gallery 4 –Enter a caption

In revisiting the pieces that I’ve shared about this topic, I realize that I shortchanged the importance of vision and moral purpose as the driving forces for leadership work. To make up for that oversight, I’ve added a section of resources devoted just to these. As I’ve tried to emphasize throughout my writing, there is a critical difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.  Without the clarity provided by the development of a strong sense of moral purpose and a vision that focuses on why we are doing what we are doing, we greatly increase the risk of simply doing wrong things better.



Moral purpose and vision form the foundations for the development and exercise of leadership. The attention to vision and moral purpose serve as the guidepost for our leadership journey. In his little book on the life of St. Francis, Francis: the Journey and the Dream, Murray Bodo ofm offers the idea that the dream (our vision/purpose) is what drives the journey. Our journey is what makes the dream possible. They exist in a mutually supportive relationship.   Without the dream, there is no reason to continue to struggle with the rigors of the journey. Without the trials and struggles of the journey, we can never attain the dream.

I am convinced that. too frequently, our school communities have been exhausted by the rigors of the journey without the vision of the dream that guides us. It is that vision and that purpose that encourage participation in the hard work of the journey. It is leadership that guides, supports, and validates that work.

Lastly, while I have listed the components of leadership as discrete concepts, they exist in relation to one another. They build upon and interact with one another. As such, any assignment of resources to a particular category/components is, at best, an artificial distinction. I have led off with Vision/Purpose primarily because too often in my work, I’ve encountered good people trying to do things right, with little or no inclination or encouragement to consider whether or not it was the right thing.

 Vision/Purpose –

 My intent with the selection or resources offered here is not to suggest your vision/purpose. It is intended, however, to provide a frame of reference for your reflections. I believe and have emphasized elsewhere that the default vision and purpose for our education “system” has become schooling and how to do schooling better. The resources I’ve included here offer alternatives to that direction and purpose. In some way, each encourages us to ask “why” we are doing the work we are doing.

 Sir Ken RobinsonRobinson’s TED Talks are among the most viewed TED presentations worldwide. The thinking and language expressed in his talks and in his writings can provide educators and members of the education community with concepts useful in the conversation about purpose and vision.

Robinson – Booksbooks deal with the premise that while the current focus on standards is necessary but not sufficient. They focus on the need to help student discover their passion and the need to focus attention of the development of creativity in all children.

  • Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative
  • Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Transform Your Life
  • The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

 Robinson – Video Talks

Changing Paradigms in Education – Sir Ken challenges the way we organize teaching/learning

Escaping Education’s Death Valley– Sir Ken offers thoughts about the how we might organize learning

Simon Sinek – TED Talk

How Great Leaders Inspire Action – One of two citations for the work of Simon Sinek. In this TED Talk, Sinek addresses the critical importance of clear purpose, the sense of “why” we do anything.

Dan Pink – RSA Animate version of Pink’s TED Talk, Drive. One of the nation’s leading thinkers challenges traditional thinking about what motivates adults (and kids).

Will Richardson – Book

Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere – moving education and learning beyond the walls of the school. Richardson has a rich array of TED Talks, writings and blogs around the topic of the learning and schooling.

Clark Aldrich – book

Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What we Know About Schools and Rediscover Education – deceptive title… this little book provides an interesting blueprint for what should be the cornerstones of learning programs. Education should consist of three types of learning: (1) learning how to learn, (2) learning how to do, (3) learning how to be.

John Seely Browne – book with Douglas Thomas

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating Imagination for a World of Constant Change – Adds thoughts on engagement, passion, etc. His video gives a great example of how kids are using the internet to create learning communities that are not bound by any walls.

A final thought about vision/purpose…

I imagine that, in your time in education, you have engaged in any number of conversations, discussions groups, planning sessions, etc., all dealing with the development/refinement of the school/district’s vision statements. Am I suggesting that these all fall short? No, I’m not. But what I can share is this… In the past ten years or so that I have been traveling and spending on average 10-15 days a year in the schools where I work, I have seen numerous vision statements and almost no intentional actions intended to assess or promote the achievement of the stated vision. Publicly posted statements of vision/purpose accompanied by no discernable intentionality of action do not reflect well on the exercise of leadership.

Conversations/ Relationships –

 In contrast to the rich offering of resources relating to vision/purpose, the recommendation for this component may seem quite meager. I’m reminded of a popular TV commercial from some years ago in which an announcer offered a flowery and glowing introduction for the speaker, extolling the depth of his knowledge and expertise. The speaker then walked onto the stage, looked out at the assembled crowd, said “Wassau” and left the stage. There is really only one resource needed for the incredibly important topic of conversations and the connection between effective conversations and positive relationships… Susan Scott.

Scott not only builds the rationale for what she terms “fierce conversations”, she provides a step by step training for the development and honing of the skills involved. Her works are thoughtful, humorous, and hands-on. She begins with the premise that few of us have had the luxury of any kind of formal, intentional training in preparation for “challenging” conversations. My interviews with teachers, leadership candidates, school leaders, district leaders, etc. affirm her assertion.

Note: Although the overwhelming majority of those interviewed indicated that they would rate themselves less than satisfactory on their confidence to guide productive difficult conversations, there persist significant barriers for individuals to commit to the practice of Scott’s suggested steps. In some ways this reluctance appears not dissimilar to trying to break a bad habit. It’s tough to do without support.

The most successful instances of people learning to feel comfortable with Scott’s approaches are those who were able to work together with leadership colleagues to discuss the process, try it out and, apparently of greatest importance, discuss the experience with those colleagues. It’s tough to do alone.

When wondering if it’s really worth the effort, you might focus on Scott’s observation in her work with organizations and organizational leaders… solid relationships are critical to the development of the kind of trust that must be present to allow risk taking to occur  while solid relationships are built one good conversation at a time, poor relationships are created one poor conversation at a time.

I’ve included here both of her works on the relationship between conversations and relationship building. I would suggest beginning with Fierce Conversations. If you find it as helpful as participants in my coaching, you will most likely also read Fierce Leadership.

Susan Scott – Fierce Conversations – the most powerful book that I’ve encountered in my time as a school leader and executive coach.

Susan Scott – Fierce Leadership – the extension of the fierce conversation approach to leadership. Neither book is specifically about school; however, they are both totally about school.

Trust and creating the Circle of Safety

 Simon Sinek –  Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safean informative and inspirational talk in which Sinek describes the Circle of Safety and the things that good leaders do to build trust and security.

 James A. Autry – Book

The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance – a look at a different approach to leadership and the ways in which trust is developed.

Tom Sergiovanni – Book

Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement – This work probably could have fit into any of the component categories. For the first half of his career, Dr. Sergiovanni focused on the mechanics of supervision and evaluation. Having witnessed the failure of such approaches to make a difference in the quality of learning experiences for students, Dr. Sergiovanni spent the most productive years of his career speaking and writing about building learning communities, the importance of the development of followership and the role that moral leadership plays in this process.


Note:  I believe that Followership is less a strategy or skill than a condition. It is the condition that can result when there is clear vision/purpose and the commitment to the development of a culture characterized by honest, meaningful conversations, the nurturing of caring, supportive relationships inside a web of trust and safety. Followership does not imply a mindless obedience to the dictates of someone with greater authority. It is rather the deliberate decision to participate collaboratively in a community dedicated to the pursuit of a dream, vision, sense of purpose that engages us at a deep part of our being. It is a voluntary belonging.  

 Phil Schlechty – Book

Leading Learning – an extension of the Engaging Students book that concretely addresses the steps that leaders can/should/might take to cause learning in both kids and adults in response to our current challenges

End thoughts – While it seems plausible that each generation of educators might look at its own time and describe it as one of great challenge, there seems to be something “special” about this time. Regardless of the accuracy of this perception, there is the unfortunate sense that our public schools are failing. We are seeing increasing challenges to the continuation of schooling as we have experienced it, both as students and in our work. We are seeing the denigration of the profession to which many of us have devoted a substantial portion of our lives. I’ll be connecting leadership to these challenges in the next post.

Be well

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