ANDREW DELINSKY, HEAD OF SCHOOL: I am fascinated with the concept and practice of leadership and know that one of the greatest gifts and privileges I have at Peck is the opportunity to lead.
One of the greatest gifts and privileges I have at Peck is the opportunity to lead.
I don’t take the responsibility lightly, nor should I – Peck, like all schools, has a special, deep-seeded culture and history that deserves a careful stewardship into the future. It is my responsibility and charge to leave the school better than how I found it, which is what all leaders should strive to do, regardless of who or what they are leading.
What makes leadership so interesting, and at the same time challenging, is that there’s no clear definition of how to lead or what makes a great leader. There’s no formula that works for everyone. There’s no textbook that lays out simple steps to follow. What is it, then, that separates great leaders from good leaders, good leaders from mediocre leaders, and mediocre leaders from truly ineffective leaders? I certainly don’t pretend to have the answer, but I do have ideas based on my own experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t worked. For the sake of this blog, I’ve decided to focus on three areas (of many) that I feel are crucial for leadership success: authenticity, humility, and cultural competency.
- I firmly believe that one of the greatest mistakes any leader can make – whether they are an aspiring or actual one – is to pretend to be a leader they’re not. The façade simply won’t last if a person is leading off of someone else’s model, someone else’s beliefs, and someone else’s traits. Leaders must be authentic and lead in a way that is entirely consistent with who they are and with what they believe. For example, I have the greatest respect for Steve Jobs and marvel at his unique vision, but there’s no way his greatly documented, oftentimes abusive leadership style would work for me. Similarly, I’ve had the privilege of working with and for some wonderful heads of school. While I certainly model some of my practices off of them, I don’t try to be them. It would be inauthentic. It simply wouldn’t work. For me, I lead with a smile and it’s important to me that people feel valued and heard. I believe that people should be empowered with trust and responsibility and that the best results occur when people are given the creativity and flexibility to explore.
- When asked what trait I’d most want to impress upon my own children, I’d answer with humility. While I want them to enjoy their successes, I don’t want their successes to become who they are nor would I ever want them to think they are better than those around them. There’s always room to improve and a person’s identity has to be far more than a few feathers in the cap. I have similar feelings about leadership, which, I believe, requires humility. It’s a truth that every leader is dispensable: the faster a leader realizes this, the better. Part of what motivates me is the awareness that I can always do better and that there are many talented, motivated, and ambitious people who could do my job and do it well. I’m also well aware that I am part of something far bigger than me. I must remain humble enough, despite whatever accomplishments we are able to enjoy, to realize that more work has to be done. Humility allows a leader to admit mistakes, to seek out different thoughts and ideas, and to empower those around them because they realize every person has his or her own limitations. To me, this is a recipe for lasting success.
- In an upcoming letter in our Annual Report, Peck’s board chair Jamie Foley masterfully weaves the famous Peter Drucker quotation, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” into his discussion of Peck’s strong culture. I love the quotation, and I happen also to believe that culture can eat a leader for breakfast if he or she isn’t careful! Leaders must pay attention to and be respectful of an organization's culture before making assumptions of what needs to happen. This is exactly where many leaders falter. No one formula or approach works perfectly across all organizations – what might work at one company or school could be a terrible failure at another. It is for this reason that leaders must display a high level of cultural competency by carefully studying culture and then creating a strategy that embraces it in order to succeed (yes, once again, this requires humility, for the leader must acknowledge that he or she doesn’t have all the answers!). Any leader can enter an organization and make sweeping, immediate change. But will it last? I doubt it because the change probably ignores the culture that proceeded it. I’d argue that the culture-savvy leader wouldn’t make this mistake and, instead, would know an organization well enough only to usher in lasting change that has buy-in and makes institutional sense.
What I love about leadership is that just as many people can disagree with my thoughts on leadership as they can agree with them. Leadership is innately personal, but every leader should know what values and beliefs guide them in order to lead thoughtfully and with purpose.