Much of my reading is devoted to research and topics directly tied to education. In an attempt to broaden my thinking I have been trying to read more from other genres if you will– business, technology, even sports. Looking outside the walls of education and educational research is an essential practice for leaders because it can reinforce, refine and deepen understanding. This week I found a synopsis of a ten year study on what great executives do and know was recently published in Harvard Business Review that did just that.  

After doing rigorous statistical analysis over mounds of longitudinal data the authors identified four key recurring patterns that the most successful leaders consistently mastered. The key behaviors that set apart the great leaders from the good leaders is that they were relentless in knowing and doing all of the following four things:

  • knowing the whole system
  • being great decision makers
  • knowing their industry
  • developing trusting relationships

These findings align with the work of Viviane Robinson and her team on leadership dimensions that have the greatest impact on student outcomes. Her book, Student Centered Leadership, outlines the five dimensions that make the biggest difference in terms of student achievement. Notice how the dimensions compliment and extend the HBR research.

Dimension 1: Establishing goals and expectations

This practice requires both the ability to know the whole system and to make good decisions. The essence of goal setting is not to determine what is important, but to identify what is important in the specific context of the particular school or district.  

Dimension 2: Resourcing strategically

School leaders who have the greatest impact on student outcomes see and know the whole system in order to make the best decisions about how to allocate or reallocate resources in service to the mission of the school. They

Dimension 3: Ensuring quality teaching

It is difficult to support teachers in developing their craft without an understanding of effective instruction. This goes beyond just knowing an instructional framework, but also requires the leader to understand quality instruction in specific content areas. They know their industry and act in ways to ensure that quality teaching is occurring throughout the system.

Dimension 4: Leading teacher learning and development

Making sure that teachers have the support they need to learn and grow requires trusting relationships in an environment where it is ok to admit what you don’t know.  Leaders who learn alongside of their staff promote this type of culture and are ensuring that they know the industry.

Dimension 5: Ensuring a safe and orderly environment

A safe and orderly environment is impossible to create without building trusting relationships. Safe environments are contingent on trust; trust between student and teachers, teachers and principal, and students and students.

The critical piece in both sets of research is that all of these behaviors are exhibited by effective leaders. Leaders who make a difference know that it is in what they do day in and day out that makes a difference.