Leading by example: How superintendents can inspire and boost buy-in from their teams

The most-inspired leaders serve as an example to others that the pinnacle of leadership is reached when you care more about others standing atop the summit than you do about your own view.


“The great leaders are like the best conductors — they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”

— Blaine Lee, Covey Leadership

“Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

— Jack Welch

Leadership is not a top-down impulse but rather a bottom-up effort. The greatest leaders in history have not been dictators but rather directors, leadership maestros who used their gifts of vision, values and purpose to orchestrate actions that served a cause greater than themselves. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, said, “You don’t lead people by hitting them over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.”

Giving orders is not leadership; giving hope is. Supervising is not leadership; coaching, training and mentoring are leadership behaviors. Leaders who steward the interests of those they lead earn far more than the obedience of their followers. They earn respect. And remember, you cannot lead others well unless you can lead yourself well. A good leader inspires people to have confidence in their leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.

Ask yourself: Are you an inspired leader? Be brutally honest. It is good to reflect on how well we are living up to our own leadership challenges and roadblocks. How well are you serving your team and your organization? When was the last time you asked the people you lead how well you are meeting their professional needs? When was the last time that you took a few minutes to sit with each of your team members and asked them what you can do better to help them be more effective or more satisfied in their work? Have you ever asked your colleagues how you can inspire them to excel? Go ahead. Ask the questions and do not fear the answers.

Inspired leadership is not about weak and strong. It’s about right and wrong. It’s about doing things the right way, for the right reasons and using your position of power, trust and influence to serve. Serve as a facilitator to get things done. Serve as a mentor to grow your team members. Ultimately, the most-inspired leaders serve as an example to others that the pinnacle of leadership is reached when you care more about others standing atop the summit than you do about your own view.

I have always encouraged those in positions of leadership to adopt the following Leadership Credo as their own, to pay attention to its words and the lessons it can teach.

Dear Leader,

We are watching everything you do. Even when you think we’re not paying attention, we are. There is never a time when you’re not in your leadership role. You may think that when you choose to ignore an issue, you are not leading. You’re wrong. If you show up late for a meeting, you lead us to believe that our time isn’t valuable. If you lose your cool and overreact to small issues, we wonder how you will react when something big comes along. It’s a fact — you are always leading. You can never NOT lead. Everything you do counts.

Believe it or not, we DO understand that leadership isn’t easy. As we watch you each day, we see the incredible responsibilities you’re charged with. You’re accountable for your actions and for our actions — plus all the fiscal requirements, employee problems, feedback, training, technology changes, hiring, firing, communicating, staff development, prioritizing, eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy, and much more. Your job is tough. But it is the job you chose. What we ask of you is to accept responsibility for being the very best at your job so we can be the best at our jobs.

Whether you’re a leader at work, at home, in your community or even at the North Pole, never forget the four most important words from the passage above: Everything you do counts. Now go be a leader ... today!

Bernie Cronin — president and founder of Bernie Cronin International, a corporate consulting firm that assists organizations in achieving their organizational goals — is a frequent presenter at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show.