10 Lessons for Effective Leadership – As Told by a Lifelong Teacher

Given this is the week that most schools are back in session, I wanted to do something different with the blog. Many of you may be familiar with my sister, Michele Santoro – though maybe you didn’t realize she was my sister. Michele is a huge supporter of Front and Centered and regularly shares her valuable commentary and insight on our posts. Michele also happens to be a lifelong teacher. As my readers know, I am a lifelong learner with a passion for teaching. Michele has had a strong influence on me, not just personally, but professionally. She has taught me that everyday teaching skills are not just relevant to those who lead a classroom, but to all of us pursuing a career in leadership or those who are simply students of life.  AL and Michelle Santoro

So in honor of “back to school,” I asked Michele to share the top 10 things she has learned throughout her career as a teacher and I’ve applied a “leadership lesson” to each one. Not only do I hope you find applicability to the career you have, but for those parents of school-age children, I hope you enjoy the inside scoop of what may be motivating your kids’ teachers as they begin a new year together.

I would like to first thank the “Front and Centered” team at SEI for giving me an opportunity to speak on a topic that is near and dear to my heart – teaching. For the past 30 odd years or so, I have been in the education business, as both a teacher and a student. For 26 of those years, I was in all kinds of classrooms in many places. I have retired from full-time teaching, but I still substitute-teach middle schoolers at my former place of employment. I am happy to offer some tidbits of information that have helped me navigate a successful career in teaching, and are easily transferable to leadership in any profession.

  1. Believe in what you do.

I love to learn and I realized that I liked the idea of transmitting what I learned through the years to the younger generations. It is this “passing it forward” mentality that led me to pursue a teaching career.

Leadership lesson: If you want to motivate your team to follow you, they better feel as though you wholeheartedly believe in the vision in the first place.

  1. Know your subject matter well.

Students can tell when a teacher loves what she does in the classroom. When a teacher is enthusiastic about the subject she is teaching, it comes across loudly and clearly to her students.

Leadership lesson: When you are passionate about what you do, your team will become naturally more engaged to work with you on making a difference and bringing the vision to life.

  1. Set high expectations.

Students will almost always rise to meet and exceed those expectations. It is a confidence booster to the student when he/she is successful in the classroom.

Leadership lesson: Always establish stretch goals and don’t underestimate the power of challenging your team to achieve them. Motivate them to push themselves – more times than not, they will achieve the stretch goal or close to it.

  1. Be open to role reversal.

You would be surprised at the number of times my students have enlightened me or taught me something – especially in the area of technology. They absolutely love it when I get excited about learning something new. It gives them the opportunity to “school” me in areas where they are the experts.

Leadership lesson: Don’t be afraid to let the student become the master. There is no better sign of a successful leader than when a member of your team has the passion and drive to initiate an idea and rally the team to execute it.

  1. Every student can be taught.

Despite academic or developmental differences, I believe with the proper method of instruction, a teacher can meet the needs of the students in her classroom.

Leadership lesson: Get to know your team. Learning differences do not stop after schooling. Be an open-minded leader and embrace those differences. Find out how to motivate each member of your team uniquely.

  1. Classroom management is a must.

This is key to a conducive learning environment. Learning will not take place without it. Every setting needs a leader; in the classroom, that must be the teacher.

Leadership lesson: Be accountable. It is important to empower your team to have an active role in the vision, but as the leader, you are the one ultimately accountable for success and failure. It is your responsibility to keep the team focused and progressing.

  1. View parents as partners.

Parents can be a teacher’s biggest supporters! Reach out to them and involve them. They know their children best. It should never be an “us versus them” mentality.

Leadership lesson: Think of your customers as a teacher does parents. They are the audience you are trying to engage. Include them in your product or service development process and never lose sight of the importance their feedback and acceptance will play on the perceived value you deliver.

  1. Keep rules simple, yet effective.

Be a positive force, rather than a negative one. A classroom where students are welcomed and valued fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect. They get the sense that we are in this together. The classroom is their “home away from home” – all should be treated with kindness.

Leadership lesson: Create an atmosphere where your team wants to show up to work every day. Lead your team with passion, dedication, focus and FUN. We spend more time during the week with our co-workers than we do our families. Treat them with respect and encouragement – it’s the key to keeping the team together for the long-term.

  1. Diversify instruction.

Not all students learn in the same manner; neither do teachers. Value and embrace the diversity.

Leadership lesson: Be open to all new ideas. Individual interest should be embraced and encouraged. Give your team members the freedom to accomplish their goals the best way they see fit. Remember, it’s your job to “manage the classroom,” but let the team members experiment with how to operate it.

  1. Be a team player!

Teachers are most effective when they can share and learn from one another. Also, be a risk-taker. Remember the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I have had the honor and privilege to have taught at a few schools – from high schools to middle schools – over the course of my career. I have learned much; it is my great hope that my students feel the same.

Leadership Lesson: Never stop learning. Be open to disruption, whether it’s from your colleagues or competitors. It will challenge us to better ourselves, our teams and our overall businesses in the long run.

I want to thank Michele for reminding us why teachers are natural-born leaders. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this post with her and hope all of you gained a little perspective when it comes to leading through teaching.