Principals don’t need personas. They need authenticity.
Having the responsibility of shaping a school, managing teachers, students and curriculum—and having to shouldering the blame when things go wrong—has led more than a few principals to project a persona. Principal or not, we all do this to some extent, of course. Under the pressure to succeed, under the pressure to “brand” ourselves with amenable qualities, we often fashion a version of ourselves that minimizes our blemishes and highlights only our best traits. Eventually though, false personas corrode and break down. That’s why we want to talk a bit about authenticity.
“What are some of your weaknesses?” This ubiquitous question shows up in nearly every interview. And while most of us have learned strategies to skirt the question, we believe principals should honestly reflect on their weaknesses. You may not necessarily want to share all of them in an interview, but having the ability to reflect critically on your shortcomings is an integral part of becoming an effective principal because it helps you assess where and when to seek help from others.
Learn to laugh at your blunders
Principals are under an incredible amount of scrutiny and that can make it hard to laugh. But taking yourself too seriously, denying or beating yourself up when you make a blunder is going to take a toll on you and your relationships. Self-deprecating humor is often the funniest. Laugh and laugh often.
Be interested, not interesting
We’ve all spent time with someone who didn’t understand how the give and take of a conversation works. We’ve all gotten off the phone a half hour later and realized, “Wow. She didn’t ask me a single thing about myself.” We all have our moments, but try not to be that person on the other end of the telephone. Authentic principals ask questions and are focused on being interested, not interesting.
Don’t surround yourself with yea-sayers
Praise and concession sure feels nice, but it amounts to little if it is coming from those who offer it out of fear or flattery. Connect with other educational leaders who aren’t personally invested in your school. It’s helpful to have mentors who are encouraging but who also aren’t afraid to give you a perspective that’s different from your own.
Accept that you cannot do this alone
You may think that you have to do it all—and certainly you have an overwhelming amount of responsibilities—but trying to do it all on your own is impossible; and it could have the effect of making you look like a control freak or worse—take a toll on your health. Let your “army” of intelligent and perfectly capable teachers help you shoulder the burden. They may gain a better perspective of the scope of the issues you face too.
Schools benefit from authentic leaders—men and women who engage others and who are working toward authenticity. Being authentic has the added benefit of letting people know that while you’re tough and very capable, you are human too, and appreciate help and support from others.