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Balancing Leadership with Capacity

In a prior blog post (link) on building partnerships within the school and community the importance of leadership is vital to the development of these relationships. This post will explore the attributes of effective leaders and the environment that allows productive environment to develop.

The adult leaders must balance the need to provide strong leadership with the need to disseminate authority and remember at times limit his or her participation. This is vital because a leader that dominates discussions can discourage full, active participation by other members of the group.

There is also the danger that a leader’s personal priorities can become the sole focus of the group and prevent other important issues from being addressed. This can lead to a drop in enthusiasm by members of the group because the purpose of the group, to develop a forum in which young people and adults can work together to improve their communities and schools may be seen as an extension of the leader’s or school districts established priorities and methods.

An effective leader will direct the proceedings, provide organization support and guidance. They will be responsive to group concerns and initiatives and provide motivation and a global direction while allowing other members of the group to develop the framework for achieving the group’s objectives.

This will be especially important because the group should be composed of a variety of people from different occupations, ages, and beliefs. It is the role for the leader to act as a conductor that assigns people responsibilities that will use their individual skills and experience to allow the group to work together to achieve its goals.

This may be difficult because the natural inclination may be to select people that have similar outlooks or priorities. A leader must decide what the overall objective is and build a team that is best suited to achieve that objective even if it includes people the leader does not agree with professionally or personally. This approach has the benefit of including those people that may form an opposition group if excluded. In a diverse group, dissident members can act as a devil’s advocate can provide useful counterpoint views to the established order or provide solutions that would not occur to a homogenous group.

In order for a group with a diverse body to function effectively, a set of operating rules and guidelines must be established. This includes the support of calculated risk taking that is required to explore new ideas or initiatives. This requires the group as a whole to take responsibility for both successes and failures. This prevents individual members from dominating the group through claiming credit for successes while finding scapegoats for failed attempts.

This approach allows the group to work together with a common purpose, using the strengths of the group to achieve common goals, while at the same time reducing the cost of failure by spreading the risk to the group as a whole.

Community group leaders must find the balance between leading and empowering the members of their groups. A leader that is too strong will limit the group’s ability to draw upon the enthusiasm and skills of the group’s members. A weak leader may have difficulty setting goals, selecting staff and directing the group’s activities. The key decisions are selecting the group’s members, setting goals, and creating and enforcing operating principals that will ensure efficient activity.

About the author: Dr. William Hughes has worked in education for  31 years as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools. He has served as Superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. Greendale is a garden community and one of three greenbelt communities in the United States. It is a suburban district of about 2,600 students located in the Milwaukee metro area; an area known for high achieving schools.  Greendale is known for its high level of student achievement with over 90 percent of graduates attending higher education institutions, ongoing community engagement on multiple levels, along with collaborative relationships with bargaining groups while retaining a focus on children, service, citizenship and learning. He is a former board member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, a member of the National School Climate Council, board member of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can contact William Hughes at

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