Leadership … a ten letter word whose literal, contextual and practical understanding has, and continues to stump billions… Huge tomes, articles, videos, case studies have made us wiser, yet brought into sharp relief the wide gulf between theory and reality…

When Ms. Rita Wilson, in her charming, dignified way got me to speak about leadership at the Progressive Teachers’ Conclave in Kolkata (2015), we at Atul Vidyalaya made a short video on leadership from a School’s perspective. It was then, that we made a slide with an image of Goddess Saraswati as shown:-

Interestingly Dr. Thomas Schaedler of Geneva presiding at the Navrachna School’s golden jubilee as a keynote speaker highlighted the same point, albeit differently focusing on the insane expectations of miracles from millennial parents for their off springs.

With this fairly uninviting appetizer, let us look at the keys to be a successful School Leader. Let me assure you; this is purely personal and biased!!!

1. Be authentic
The world of internet, digital media, Twitter, Face book, etc. is celebrating fraud and chicanery big time. The attempt is to drive you to win the moment by hook or crook disregarding everything else. Thus, in an increasingly ethereal world without substance, authenticity in words and action defines you as a strong leader.

2. Trust but check
The biggest challenge I faced after hanging my Olive Green Uniform was the instinctive, yet visceral lack of trust in the civilian space. The Armed Forces, where trust is embedded into the system (unless proved otherwise) is the cornerstone of our esprit de corps. The civilian space functions under the disagreeable ethos of dominant trust deficits, unless demonstrated otherwise.

A scholastic institution functions optimally when the leader leads the way in trusting people proactively and is more than trusted in return.

3. Aspire for respect, not popularity
Often, in this aspirational, I me, myself world of instant nirvana, the urge to be popular and liked is very very high. The race for popularity results in vocal minority/mob mentality/forced consensus/driven decision making, leading to disastrous loss of creditability.

The leader has to consciously focus on earning respect through deliberate long term strategies for the betterment of the school, even at the risk of short term unpopularity. A tough task, but possible, and immensely satisfying.

4. Focus on socio emotional learning
The techno social cultural revolution happening across India has turned upside down family behaviour and ethos. The emotional cushion available earlier at home has dried up; sadly, with working parents, there are now significant deficiencies. Schools, despite limitations, have to be the repositories of compassion and empathy – the leader, the Principal undoubtedly.

5. Tough but fair
Parents, teachers, students and the wider community look up to the School Leader (still) as a role model. It is a huge burden to carry. The key operational word is fairness. Unpopular, tough decisions are accepted (even grudgingly) if the leader is perceived to be a fair individual, even when his/her family is involved.

6. Be an effective communicator, especially during crisis
Bad news never gets better with time, especially in this media intense world. Thus, move upfront, use simple declarative sentences, speak the whole truth, and accept the consequences upfront, alone. It is your dharma to shield your staff at all times, even more when crisis hits the institution.
Six workable ideas out of my own experience…

Do you agree?

Further, feel free to visit us at Atul Vidyalaya and see for yourself as to whether we walk the talk…

Lt Col A Sekhar is Principal of Atul Vidyalaya in Valsad, Gujarat. Founded in 1991 under the sponsorship of Lalbhai Group of Industries, Atul Vidyalaya aims at creating a kind of education centre where each child is imparted knowledge, which is contemporary and deeply rooted in Indian cultural heritage. Col Sekhar has achieved various awards and accolades, including extraordinary leadership award from Educom World.