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When striving to improve your school district’s performance, examine the many ways that student outcomes can be improved beyond overhauling teacher evaluations, training, and testing. As many companies and educational institutions have discovered, honing your leadership style can have a significant impact. Likely, much more than you may have anticipated.

Servant leadership, particularly, has proven to have far-reaching results. While it’s important to incorporate various styles of leadership, servant leadership received a strong following after Robert Greenleaf penned the essay “The Servant as Leader,” which was published in 1970. Greenleaf, who had a long career in management with AT&T, pushed the idea that the most effective leaders succeed by adopting an attitude of serving first.

“The servant-leader is servant first,” Greenleaf wrote in his publication. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”

Some of the foremost qualities of servant leadership, as defined by Greenleaf, included persuasion, listening, access to intuition and foresight, use of language and pragmatic measurements of outcomes. They also must be backed by authenticity and ethics.

Servant leadership in education

In education, servant leadership qualities embraced by principals and other administrators can improve performance at all levels — among teachers, students, schools and the community at large.

By focusing on adopting a style of servant leadership,  administrators can see benefits as part of a trickle-down effect. Benefits of serving others may eventually lead to benefits not only for the leader, but also for the organization or school district at large.

Organizational identification theory states that leaders with a strong sense of self and a strong identification with their organization do not differentiate between that which is beneficial for the organization and that which is beneficial to oneself.

As a result, leaders that take the time and energy to invest in an educational institution more than likely will start owning the failures and successes of the overall institution as if they were their own. They are more likely to pursue traits that will benefit the organization and its members.

By owning their responsibilities in the level of teacher and student performance, superintendents, principals, and other leaders will be able to have more of an impact, quite possibly for decades to come.

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