Strong Leaders Make Strong Cultures

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By Dr. Bobby Moore

An overwhelming body of research is clear that school culture and ethos can increase engagement, productivity, and accelerate student learning. Great school leadership and positive school culture matter. One is not more important than the other, nor can either exist independent of each other. 

Over the past decade, we have called for principals to be instructional leaders, lead learners, learning leaders, managers, data gurus, and hiring experts, among many other duties. However, the field of education has been slow to recognize the importance of emotional intelligence as a key skill for principal success. Michael Fullan, one of the leading authorities on educational leadership, has indicated that the future of the school administrator in the 21st century appears to be tied more closely than ever to establishing successful and harmonious relationships.  

Well, the future is now! We can no longer ignore the importance of emotional intelligence for school leaders and the impact that leadership has on school culture. 

There are as many emotional intelligence frameworks as the number of emotions a student or teacher experiences during a typical school year. But, for the purposes of this blog, I would like to highlight the six core skills of emotional intelligence from Genos International. 

1. Self-Awareness: What limits our ability to overcome challenges? Deal with change? Manage conflict? Reduce stress? Improve our leadership effectiveness? The answer is our self-awareness, or the skill of perceiving and understanding one’s own behaviors and emotions. Our emotions drive our behaviors. Leaders’ behaviors influence culture, which impacts results and the performance of others. 

2. Awareness of Others: How do leaders know when to slow down or speed up when implementing change? How do they understand different working styles, when to dig deeper for more feedback, or how to explore what people are thinking and feeling? Those who have a skill in perceiving others emotions can navigate the challenges associated with school improvement. These leaders are usually skilled at listening, affirming people’s thoughts and feelings, and helping them feel valued. 

3. Authenticity: Despite good intentions, some leaders may come off guarded, blunt, or appear that they will do anything to avoid conflict. This can lead to a culture of mistrust and artificial harmony. Leaders skilled in emotional expression are effective at giving feedback, fostering trust, and expressing their thoughts, opinions, and feelings at the right time and in the right way. 

4. Emotional Reasoning: Leaders skilled in emotional reasoning have a talent for not only analyzing facts and technical information, but also considering their feelings and the emotions of others when making decisions. Feelings and emotions play a key role in the decision-making process. A leader’s ability to understand the questions, concerns, and their staff’s commitment level before launching a new initiative will likely determine its success. 

5. Self-Management: One of the seven principles of positive psychology identified by Shawn Achor in his book, The Happiness Advantage, is called the Zorro Circle. Research suggests leaders must be able to control everything within a small circle around themselves first before they can expect to have a positive impact on their organization or culture. Leaders who are skilled at self-management have a positive impact on culture.  

6. Positive Influence: Successful leaders must be able to influence the moods and emotions of others in a positive way, and create a work environment where people can find productive ways of responding to challenges and obstacles. These leaders are empowering to work with and easily motivate those around them.  

We have all heard that culture trumps strategy. To move education forward for students, we should focus on developing the emotional intelligence skills of our school leaders and provide them with the tools and resources to support a great school culture.