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Updated: Oct 30, 2023

When leaders understand themselves, they are in a position to lead others. But no sooner.

The pantheon of failed reforms is littered with leaders who are responsible for the failure (read the Soul of a Leader here). Much like reform efforts that are half-baked, leaders who are thrust into a leadership position before they are ready, inevitably fail. Education leadership is not a learn-on-the-job vocation. Still, few districts engage in leadership development and consequently fill key roles with people who are not ready to assume the responsibilities inherent in the position.

Leadership capacity is understood to be a critical element to any successful school district, yet talent management and leadership development is not common. On the other side of the equation, geography bounds many leaders and may be more of a deciding factor than readiness or being a good fit.

Measuring leadership readiness is not an exact science. It starts with behavioral consistency grounded in authenticity. Implementing strategies to identify a leader’s or potential leader’s strengths and maximize them through development is gaining popularity in education. The dearth of highly-qualified leaders combined with the demand for an increasingly nuanced skill set necessary to navigate today's organizational milieu has become a national conversation.

In the absence of an effective method to determine leadership readiness, or due to sociopolitical reasons or financial implications, novice leaders are willing participants in the seemingly annual derby in some school districts to replace retiring, resigning, or unsuccessful leaders, often appointed into positions of responsibility before their time, and often with disastrous results.

A leader’s personality type may be the most effective predictor of future success. After all, the impact of leadership is at least half-driven by temperament (the other half is process-driven).

Not surprisingly, a shared taxonomy relative to temperament and personality dates back to Homer’s Wolf's Rage (referring to Achilles). From the ancient temperaments defined by Aristotle, to Jung’s archetypes, to trait preferences as measured by Myers & Briggs, based on Jung’s theories, situational specificity notwithstanding, temperament has remained stable over time. Keirsey identified humankind's four basic temperaments as the Artisan, the Guardian, the Idealist, and the Rational, which he further divided into character types or personality types. I am treating temperament and personality as two sides of the same coin. As a child’s personality develops, a stable pattern of behavior based on temperament emerges.

Temperament is not confined to any particular context and is evident throughout a person’s life. "Who" a person is ultimately shapes how she or he leads, much more than contextual elements. The literature describes characteristic adaptations (developmental training) and personal narratives (which form identity) as the other elements that forms one’s personality, and subsequently shapes the soul of the authentic leader. Given the challenges of education leadership, including the demands of the job relative to its compensation, which has effectively cut off the teacher pipeline, school districts are smart to build talent development programs and use personality inventories among other indicators of readiness.

Uber-successful school districts create process-driven systems that invest heavily in processes and infrastructure. Future leaders are tapped early and nurtured.

Apolitical school districts committed to steering clear of the crosshairs of political expediency develop their leaders, and, like a fine wine, do not introduce them until they are ready. And savvy superintendents are deliberate and strategic with their hiring decisions and consider finding the right person for the right position among the most important functions of the superintendency. Hiring autonomy is present in most superintendent's employment contracts for that reason. What Bakke defined as a fusion process in the 1950s, in today’s vernacular is simply referred to as a good fit.

Identifying the personality traits that translate to successful leadership behaviors is context-driven and becomes a priority for process-driven school districts that understand the value a leader brings to an organization. While no personality type or set of traits suits all leadership positions, based on the Five-Factor Model, the traits agreeableness and conscientiousness translate to stable functioning in emotional, social, and motivational domains, a key leadership characteristic. Based on the most common trait inventories, successful leaders in education, including those who have reached the top of the pyramid, most commonly identify with the sensing-thinking-judging domain, regardless of whether they identify as introverted or extroverted by nature.

Functioning at a highly-efficient level, process-driven organizations can weather the vagaries of an historically unstable and complex organizational environment by investing in a process to learn about, develop, and assign their leaders based on each individual’s personality type and their strengths and weaknesses.

...And to the leader: Know thyself.

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