The School Leader as Optimizer: A Divine Exemplar

A trusted school leader exemplifies Commitment when he or she “inspires and leads new and challenging innovations.”[1] They know the value of inspirational leadership. They also understand innovation is born from inspiration.[2] Leaders who are Optimizers focus on setting high performance expectations, clearly establishing a vision of a desired future, and celebrating exemplars of those expectations.

Jesus was certainly the divine Optimizer as He taught that, “nothing is impossible.”[3] He set high expectations; cast a vision of a new reality for the future, and provided inspirational motivation that the world had never seen (i.e. His resurrection). The result? His followers were marked by innovative behaviors that literally changed the world: innovations born out of inspirational motivation, not legislative authority.

In a similar manner, the trusted school leader knows the value of motivating through inspiration, rather than through legislation or negative consequences (i.e. do this or else). The trusted leader’s visible level of Commitment to the school and to the success of the faculty and staff is inspiring. This type of leadership breeds innovation, which is an essential element of continual school improvement. The Optimizer does not inspire from above – but from alongside.

Jesus also exhibited the responsibility of being the Optimizer when He gave the invitation to “Follow me.”[4] In fact, He knew and demonstrated the great value of living life side-by-side with those he managed. Similarly, committed school leaders never ask anything of those they manage that they are not willing to abide themselves. They also clearly recognize they are very different from Jesus, and that they have, do, and will fail. That dose of humble recognition of their own humanity serves as part of their role in being an inspiring Optimizer (i.e. if he can do it – so can I). Jim Collins identifies how the most effective and successful leaders are marked by a paradox of emulating personal humility combined with incredible professional will, focused on reaching the organization’s goals. Level 5 Leaders do not lead through the exercise of power but through the power of leading by example.

“True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.”[5]

That is certainly a Christian principle of leadership. An unknown author once said, “Jesus is a gentleman. He doesn’t force himself upon anyone.” If the only means by which a school leader can mobilize those they manage is through the power of their position, then said leader is inadequate for that position. Trusted, committed, and genuine leaders have followers inspired by their example.

©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

[1] Marzano et. al., School Leadership That Works, 725, Kindle.

[2] W. Lathe, “Innovation inspiration,” Science 351, no. 6275 (2016): 821.

[3] Luke 17:6; Matthew 17:20 (NASB).

[4] Matthew 4:19 (NASB).

[5] Collins, Good To Great And The Social Sectors, 185, Kindle.

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