Motivational Leadership: Never Expect of Others What You Do Not Expect of Yourself

I’ve often asked venture capitalists, “When you consider investments, do you bet on the jockey or the horse?” Is it the actual innovation or plan that is more important, or is it the implementation or leader who executes the plan? You need both, but most investors, if forced to choose,  suggest having the right jockey to lead, enthuse, and engage to bring the plan to fruition is more important. It explains why when you Google the term leadership, you get countless entries. What could possibly be left to say?

After spending 40 years as a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent, and now an education non-profit leader, I’ve learned that simply saying we need better leadership is like a basketball coach asking his athletes to shoot better. What educators need are examples, skills, and guidance to make leadership work in an educational context. The skills, knowledge, and dispositions it takes for a teacher to be successful in the classroom with students are the same ones it takes for a superintendent to work successfully with various stakeholders. There’s no question that an educational leader is inextricably linked to the culture of the classroom, team, building, or district. There is no leadership without followership. And, the degree of followership is often determined by the actions, beliefs, attitudes, and working conditions that define the culture.

I would argue that the single most important factor in defining culture is what the leader does or doesn’t do on a regular basis. A leader’s actions can motivate or de-motivate, engage or disengage, involve or exclude, build trust or tear it down.  President Eisenhower once defined leadership as “getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” So, how do you do that? In middle school, the same group of students often remains together but has different teachers. Why can one teacher get a completely different response than another teacher? It isn’t just the subject difference. The major variable is the teacher, and more importantly, the actions he or she directs to the group.

Years ago, as a young army officer, I was part of an exercise learning to properly use a gas mask in a real simulation. Our captain meticulously explained and demonstrated what was going to happen, how we would feel, and what we should do. The silence was eerie. But, just before the exercise began, I remember clearly what he said next: “If you get in there and start to panic or aren’t sure what to do, watch me. I’m going first.”  How simple, yet profound. Leadership is ensuring that you never expect of others what you do not expect of yourself. If you want others to be enthusiastic, you need to be enthusiastic. If you want others to plan well, then you need to plan. You get what you give.

So there it is. The leader. The culture. The mission. How the intermix of these three are articulated, fostered, connected, recognized, and executed means the difference between success and failure, or at least something far less than success. Motivational leadership refers to those set of practices that cause people to want to follow you.

Ania Striker