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The Key to Effective Leadership

“Good leadership is about building a culture of trust, leading by influence, and treating people well along the way.” ~Thomas R. Harris

principal holding clipboard
Key to Effective Leadership

Being a leader is a responsibility like no other. Not only are you responsible for the growth of your organization, but also for the growth of your people. If COVID taught us anything, we all need people. And to make the organization its best, you need people to feel that they matter and that the work they do is needed. I always say, leadership is about people!

There are a bazillion things a leader is responsible for each day. There are so many skills and characteristics that an effective leader needs to have gained to do the job well, but the best leaders understand that without relationships with their people, nothing else matters. I ran schools for 16 years as the principal. Yes...before anyone says anything...I did get to hang out with kids each day, but it was not all playtime for me. I was brought into each of my schools to conduct a turnaround. These schools were struggling and were in jeopardy of needing more severe restrictions set by the state entities if things did not change quickly. The work I had to do was to ensure systems were in place and aligned with the work necessary for student success, the climate and culture of the school was one that people felt supported and safe and understood what we stood for at that school, and as the leader, I needed to ensure my own skillset, in addition to the teachers’ skills, were aligned with what needed to be done so that the school could get back on track as quickly as possible. And I could not have done any of these turnarounds without ensuring that every one of my staff understood our vision, mission, and goals and felt empowered to do the work well, even when it was hard. I had to build trust and motivation in the students to make changes they never imagined they would make at such a young age, so that they would understand that school is for learning and growing, not fighting, and playing around. And, I had to make sure that each of the communities that I served trusted me, knew that I believed in their child, and developed partnerships where everyone felt comfortable working together to move the school forward. This was “people” work!

So how did I do it? I built relationships. I let each group of stakeholders get to know me so they could see me as a real person, not just someone coming into their territory and telling them what to do. I had to help my teachers understand that although they were doing things a certain way for several years, that way may not be the best and change was needed...and get them to not take that personally. I needed the students to see that I cared about them and their growth and that I believed that they could be successful, even when they didn’t even understand what success felt like.

I walked the halls religiously every morning. I met the school buses at the front of the school as they delivered students so that I could touch base with each driver. The students came off the bus giving me their high fives and setting themselves up for a successful day. I spoke to each staff member each morning as I made my way around the building. I heard stories about their own families, their upcoming vacations, and their wins that I may have missed from the previous day. I saw and greeted the students walking into the building, asking them about their previous night, their upcoming game, or their new baby sibling that mom had the week prior. The parents entered our arrival area each morning, ready to deliver their children and have a quick conversation with me. Did I see every student, every parent, and every community member each morning? No, but I strategically placed myself through my school building so that each week, everyone saw that I was there for them, ready to help them be their very best!

Throughout the day I had conversations with teachers about things that were on their minds regarding their students and gave them strategies to remedy these concerns. I hired teams that would work with my teachers and students in a way that supported their own work in the classrooms and trained this team to be servant leaders throughout the building. I made parent phone calls throughout the day, greeted parents as they came into the building for lunch visits and other events. I learned all the names and used them, so that each person knew that I had that connection with them and that they mattered to me. Even students with discipline concerns that would be sent to the office found themselves pouring their hearts out to me and learning how to problem solve for their concerns so that they could be in those classrooms learning each day. This was the power of relationship building!

I learned all the names and used them, so that each person knew that I had that connection with them and that they mattered to me.

Did I do everything perfect as a leader...of course not. But if you were to ask any one of my previous employees they would tell you this....she understood us, she listened to us, she had empathy for our situations, but she held us accountable. I will also tell you that because we had that relationship, it was easy to hold them accountable because they knew that I valued them. So, you ask me what the key to effective leadership is, I say this. To be an amazing leader, focus on building those relationships with your employees, your clients, your communities, and build that reputation that ensures people see you as a valued and trusted authority and know that you are there to help them be their best! It’s all about people!


Meet the expert:

Cheri Dixon is the owner of Cheri Dixon Consulting LLC, which she started after leaving a 28-year career in public education. Cheri loved the work she did with turnaround schools and continues to take that work into the business world, helping businesses scale their organizations to the next level.  In addition, Cheri believes that the leader is crucial to any organization’s and supports leaders to develop their skills to strive for excellence in this global society.  

Dive deeper into her wealth of knowledge:



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