leadership, success, leaders, decision, decision-making, strategy, checklist, learning, systems, change,

The Leadership Checklist

A good checklist can change everything. Atul Gawande gave us a great gift in The Checklist Manifesto when he documented the value of a checklist for performance. From industries as varied as aviation, health care, and skyscraper construction, Gawande proved incontrovertibly that a good checklist is invaluable for success.

So why not a Leadership Checklist? Too often leadership potential is predicted from “a hunch” or, worse, a combination of height or personality or gender. Or much like the misguided baseball scouts in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball who gauged a ballplayer’s ability from the scout’s intuition: “He looks like a winner!” We too often calibrate leadership ability from an arresting interview or a combination of physical attributes and charm or even the ability to tell a joke with confidence.

Here’s a checklist of what excellent leaders do, with thanks to Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School for her research on the topics of management and leadership.

Edmondson delineates five different areas important for leadership success, and we’ve phrased each area as a question for your reflection on your own leadership toolbox:

1. Strategic processes: Can you develop strategic processes for your school? These processes arise from establishing vision and mission, setting goals, and creating a sense of common purpose. In some ways, this aspect of leadership is as simple as leading a group from Point A to Point B, but you surely need to know where you’ve started and where you’re going--and to communicate that path clearly and well.

2. Decision-making: Can you establish effective decision-making processes? If so, you should be hearing good healthy, raucous debates on your team so that everyone feels trusted and motivated to generate alternatives for the good of the school. This aspect of leadership requires the drive to come to consensus on decisions—tactical or big audacious decisions—each of which your team will embrace because the process of getting to those decisions was robust and inclusive.

3. Learning: Can you lead your entire organization to new learning and overall improvement? If a teacher’s work is to inspire students to learn and grow, a leader’s work is to ensure that the entire organization is learning and growing. No hamster wheels. This aspect of leadership is critical to helping the adults in the organization create and adopt new approaches, then collaborate and share new learning, and get better together!

4. Systems: Can you coordinate and manage the systems in the school? This aspect of leadership might seem more mundane: it’s orchestrating, delegating, and monitoring the work of the employees in the organization. It’s ensuring that important tasks are completed as planned. The trains run on time. In some ways, it’s as simple as dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and although it may seem less showy, it’s important. It builds credibility in the organization.

5. Change: Finally, can you manage change? Nothing ever stays the same, so whether your school is facing a threat or the opportunity to grow or the chance to implement an exciting new program, a leader is responsible for taking charge of change and building momentum for something new, step by step. Change so often feels like loss to those who are impacted—there’s nothing simple about change—so the savvy leader carefully manages the change process. Thank you notes help.

It feels great to check things off a to-do list. When you think about your learning agenda this summer, which of these would go on your list?