Bold Leadership: A New Age of Education Leaders

Janet Pilcher, Julie Kunselman

In Brief

6-Minute Read

In a world of continuous change, some achievements can feel impossible to reach. Sustaining high performance is a continuous work in progress. Hence, it requires accepting that the journey to excellence is endless. Similarly, education continues to evolve right before our eyes. Under these circumstances, educational leadership teams must evolve as well. Why is that?

Key Takeaways

  • There is immense pressure on education institutions to evolve and meet students where they are. This pressure calls for bold leaders in institutions to successfully manage and lead change with agility.

  • The power to become a truly great education organization lies within the ability to increase leadership capacity and develop individual leadership skills. People are an institution’s greatest assets.

  • Choose character over comfort to lead education institutions boldly into the future. Embrace the feelings of discomfort to do what is right. Leading through change requires reflection, ownership, and improvement for the sake of the team.

Build a Bold Education Leadership Team

Ultimately, the success of leaders and educators is dependent on the success of the students. Excellent leadership teams generate excellent organizations. To become a high performing education institution, leadership teams embrace these key factors:

High-performing organization key factors

As society evolves, education must transform to help students prepare for the workforce. Equally so, this evolution creates demand for leaders to respond and empower people to make a bigger impact. Leading in education looks different than it did a decade ago. Today, employees want to work for bold leaders who are courageous and willing to take risks to achieve brilliant results.

Leadership is a Choice

Education needs bold leaders to guide institutions to meet students where they are and prepare them for the skills they will need in the future.

The dictionary defines the adjective bold as:

  1. Not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff.
  2. Necessitating courage and daring.
  3. Beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action.

Thriving through the transformations ahead requires courage to guide people and think beyond the status quo. Remember, leadership is a choice. Education institutions need leaders who coach people to maximize their potential.

What Shapes a Successful School Leadership Team?

New research focused on school districts reveals what bold leaders are doing right to drive teams toward success. First, establish structures and systems that employees can use to continuously improve their skills. This can include providing support to help people manage time, review data and make decisions. In addition, establish time and space for people to share expertise and learn from each other.

Bold leadership teams strive to create and maintain a culture of engagement and high performance within the organization. To do so, analyze and share data that informs barriers and opportunities to improve. Learn from both failures and successes and eagerly share that information. After all, high performance is a ripple effect that starts with consistency of leadership practices.

The Characteristics of Bold Leaders

Bold leaders are:

  • Positive in the face of change.
  • Proactive and avoid flying under the radar.
  • Curious to ask questions and use their imagination.
  • Inspiring hope and collaboration with others.
  • Confident and willing to be uncomfortable.
  • Perceptive about people’s needs and practice self-awareness.
  • Trustworthy and have integrity.
  • Able to multitask and prioritize the most impactful work.

Bold Leadership in Action

Beyond these characteristics, what does it look like to boldly lead with agility? To successfully lead through change in education calls for alignment and consistency of leadership practices in the following areas.

Have a Mindset of Excellence

Avoid waiting for the perfect solution. There is no analysis paralysis. Decide quickly and act boldly. People with a commitment to excellence are never satisfied with the status quo and seek to establish systems of continuous improvement. Unlike absentee leaders who try to fly under the radar, bold leaders are willing to stand out and endure even in the face of failure.

Embrace Change with a Plan

Undoubtedly, change makes many people uncomfortable. Change can cause anxiety and distractions in education systems. In times of change or extended uncertainty, bold leaders effectively manage change with transparency. Anticipate disruption and set a clear vision aligned with the next steps and direction for the team. Successfully manage and lead change with confidence to guide people in the right direction.

Bring Out the Best in People

The power to become a truly great education organization lies within the ability to develop people. People are an institution’s greatest assets. Bold leaders work to help others grow and develop individual leadership skills. To create a larger impact, increase the abilities and capabilities of the people in the system. Leaders coach people to work across boundaries in education to increase agility. Focus on teams over hierarchies and build the leadership skills of individuals to collaborate for better outcomes. At times, this necessitates tough decisions, such as removing low performers and shifting people’s job duties. These are must-dos for agile leaders who want to accelerate the performance of the institution.

Strive to Recognize Others

People want to feel good about the impact they are making and acknowledged for their achievements. For this reason, make a point to recognize others often. Recognition keeps people motivated. In addition to recognizing a job well done, give people new responsibilities as a reward. Additional opportunities enable strong and high performers to accelerate their performance further and therefore feed the recognition cycle. When what’s right is recognized more often, performance improves as well as the leadership capacity of employees in education.

Spend Time in Reflection

Learning occurs when people leave the comfort zone, have new experiences and even after failing to accomplish something. Bold leaders aren’t satisfied with the leader they are today – they strive to continuously learn, improve and develop their own skills. To lead teams boldly into the future, choose character over comfort. Embrace the feelings of discomfort to do what is right. Leading through change involves reflection, ownership, and improvement for the sake of the team.

9 Tips to Become an Agile Leadership Team

A powerful leadership team is the foundation a successful school district is built upon. The nine tips below along with the key factors above create a culture of high performance.

  • Be clear on what matters to the organization.
  • Start with aligning the mission, vision and goals of the organization.
  • Define the big aims and organizational values to create a purpose for measurement and identify what will be measured.
  • Use outcomes to have conversations with employees about professional growth and development.
  • Define annual and 90-day goals to distinctly support the long-term vision of success for the organization. These goals are commonly referred to as strategic plan goals.
  • Monitor progress to engage teams to analyze and adjust actions to achieve goals.
  • Execute with fidelity, communicate progress and initiate conversations that drive the right actions.
  • Be courageous and hold oneself accountable to tough and critical conversations about employee performance.
  • Commit to recruit, select, grow, recognize and retain the highest performers.

The behaviors of all team members shape the culture of an organization. At the same time, people lean on leaders to go first and model the way. Build a leadership team that is aligned, accountable and people focused. Start embracing bold leadership, managing change and strengthening teams today.


To successfully manage and lead change in education institutions,
  • Think differently.
    Education leaders must transform to help students prepare for the future workforce. While the goal of helping students learn is still the same, the strategies to achieve and sustain excellence in education are rapidly changing.
  • Plan differently.
    Anticipate change and ready people in the organization through building leadership capacity and individual skill development. Confidently guide people in the right direction through communicating a clear vision and aligned next steps.
  • Act differently.
    Maintain a mindset of excellence and choose character over comfort. Embrace discomfort to learn from new experiences and failures. Strive to continuously learn, improve and lead through change with agility.

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