The (Unexpected) Trait of Great School Leaders

You may not think of yourself as a leader.  Yet that’s how most great leaders come into their own — because they thought of themselves as collaborators, as catalysts, rather than as the bigger-than-life ego that is often associated with leadership.  There is an attribute that these people share, and it’s something that you can develop — humility.

Recently I read an article by Theodore Bremer entitled, “Humility: The Lost Art in Leadership.”

The title itself flies in the face of how we typically think of leadership.

  • Aren’t leaders supposed to know all the answers?
  • Aren’t they supposed to be the experts?
  • How in the world can humility be an asset for leaders?

As Bremer sees it, humility is about getting input from others, learning from mistakes, letting go of controlling everything, frequently reflecting about how to improve oneself, and trusting others to do good work.

This seems to describe leaders who are far beyond ego.  They are deeply grounded and more interested in developing collective wisdom than about dispensing knowledge.  Working with them creates “flow” not “push.”  And in working with them the level of wisdom and knowledge rises for everyone.  They create a deeper sense of “knowing” within the group.  

In some ways it seems counter intuitive:  The more leaders give up control of being the expert, the more others ascribe expertise and wisdom to them.

I was mentored for many years by a great leader like that.  Larry Bowser was his name.  Dr. Larry Bowser, Deputy Superintendent, to be exact.  But to everyone, he was just Larry.

He was quiet and unassuming among us, but exerted great influence by modeling servant leadership.  He was the kind of leader we all aspired to be.  And he created a culture of respect and trust that permeated every aspect of his work.

Larry is now retired, but I think of him often when people talk about great leadership.

What great leader do you know who used humility as an asset?  What impact did that have on you?

Learn how Principal Sandy Trach used humility as a leadership asset, in our new book, Releasing Leadership Brilliance: Breaking Sound Barriers in Education.

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