Are You a Leader or a Boss

Are You a Leader or a Boss?

I came across this image on Twitter and it immediately made me wonder if people see me as a leader or a boss.


In my days as an administrator, I frequently have the opportunity to talk candidly with my teachers and staff.  The conversation often would turn to prior experiences with other administrators.  I have lost count of the number of almost identical conversations about disappointing principals they have had in the past.  Their main criticisms are that:

  • “They forget what is like the moment they step into that office”
  • “They don’t remember what it’s like in the classroom.”
  • “Why do we have to this, it doesn’t make sense”
  • “If they could just explain why we are doing it.”

This leads to teachers and educators feeling that administration is out of touch with what actually goes on in the classroom on a daily basis. The majority of educators work hard to provide the best education possible to their students. When administration doesn’t see or recognize the amazing learning taking place in classrooms, teachers are naturally going to feel isolated and alone.

When I received my survey results back from teachers in my building at the end of my first year as an Assistant Principal, they felt as though as I needed to be more visible in teachers classrooms. As I reflected on this I realized that I was spending too much time in my office and not enough time going from class to class building relationships with staff and students. The next year I created a google sheet to keep track of when and which classes I went in to help ensure I spent more time with teachers, staff and students, rather than in my office doing things that could be easily done after the building was empty.

I believe you have to lead from the trenches, with the teachers.  This is one of the reasons I like the fact that I still teach core classes each day. This allows me to build quality relationships with students and to be a relevant contributor when conversations turn to differentiation, assessment, technology integration, and other instances where a “in the trenches” experience is required.

As I have progressed as an education and administrator, I believe effective leaders must:

Empower their staff

    • Everyone has redeeming qualities and those qualities are often different from person to person. Draw on their strengths to elevate the whole team.  Be willing to let your staff try new things or take on new challenges.  Encourage and support them as they do.  Celebrate and share new skills within the team.

Have a vision and be able to  articulate the vision

    • Teachers need to see the big picture of where you are leading the team. People will row the boat if they know where they are rowing to and can understand the benefit of the destination but will be reluctant to row and will fret and continually look backwards if they don’t know the end point.

Have high expectations of staff and students

    • People will rise to the expectation you give them, set the bar high and they will strive to meet them, set it low and expect them to remain there.

Be supportive of staff and students

    • Treat people with dignity and respect and they will treat you the same way. People will work hard for you if they know you will support them when they need it. Keep emotions out of the conversation and focus on the reasons why and how

Approachable (open door policy)

    • The best  leaders are also the best listeners. People need to feel comfortable coming to you.  You must build this trust by listening, and then listening some more.  When staff, parents or students come to you with questions or problems they know they will not be judged but rather heard.  If they know your intentions are to help them solve the problem, to be a safe place to air grievances and challenges, or as a safe place to ask for help, you will grow your staff into a strong team  that centers on trust.


Terry Hoganson

One thought on “Are You a Leader or a Boss

  1. Hi Terry,
    this is a great post. It certainly focusses on crucial ideas for leadership. We are trying to instill some of these traits into our students also, in year 6, also. Thanks for sharing yur thoughts.
    Verona Gridley 🙂
    Melbourne, Australia

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