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Leadership can mean many different things to many different people, in many different contexts. For the most part, the idea of what leadership is can be considered objective and likely depends on the context in which it is examined. In the military, leadership skills are the difference between life and death, in business, strong leadership can be the difference between considerable financial gains and losses. In the context of a factory, it is the difference between creating a safe work environment and one that may be considered dangerous. Within the sphere of education, leadership skills can influence the effectiveness of teachers and the success of students. Although all of these situations drastically differ from one another, most people can agree that the importance of leadership lies in the idea of the ability of an individual or number of individuals who work to serve as a guide others, to inspire those around them and to effectively organize a cohesive effort for a common goal. Those common goals are often considered to be one of the main reasons for establishing strong leadership, however, the leader themselves must strive to personify certain traits, abilities and characteristics as a means to become a strong and effective leader. In order to better understand the effects of leadership on education and to determine how to identify an effective leader, this paper will seek to identify the traits that create an effective leader and to also examine them in the context of the current educational standards.
Just as the concept of leadership is subjective, so are the traits that are considered to make a strong leader. However, when examining the most effective traits of a leader, it can be beneficial to examine current academic literature that describes what is often considered to be most important and perceived to be most desirable in a leader. A recent psychological study on the traits of leadership examined what it was that most people desired in their leaders (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 711). The discussion was examined in terms of how the leaders presented themselves, how they functioned as successful communicators, how they were perceived by others what their overall emotional demeanor was and what was found to be the most important trait in terms of their overall success (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 716). The study was conducted by administering a questionnaire to a sample group, the questions involved focused on identifying and defining the traits found to be most commonly indicated in the data collected (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 717). The second section of the study involved requiring the participants to rank the traits in a hierarchical order as a means to determine which effects were the most important to least important in how successful leadership was perceived by the participants (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 717). This study found that there were a number of specific personality traits that helped to inspire others to work more effectively towards a common goal. The most effective emotional traits determined by this study were found to be: trustworthiness, intelligence, competency, empathy, likeability and the ability to inspire others (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 727).
The trait of trustworthiness encompasses the ability to maturely handle conflict and personal issues with confidentiality and discretion, also without fear of retribution when concerns and questions arise (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 720). Intelligence and competency as leadership traits go hand-in-hand and often involve the ability for the individual in the leadership position to fully understand not only their own job and professional responsibilities, but also the jobs and personal responsibilities of their subordinates (Stick & Hauserman, 2013). The trait of empathy involves a leader who knows how to relate to their employees and coworkers, meaning that they are better suited to deal with the personal struggles of others (Stick & Hauserman, 2013). The ability to empathize with others not only builds allows leaders to place themselves in another’s situation, it also helps to create and fortify trust (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 721). Likeability is one of the more subjective leadership traits as it has to do with the personality of the leader (Stick & Hauserman, 2013). Likeability is often determined by how charismatic, socially outgoing, enthusiastic and self-assured the individual is perceived to be (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 722). However, what is likeable to one person may not necessarily be likeable to another. The ability to inspire others to perform to the highest standards is also important and can be accomplished in a number of ways (Nichols & Cottrell, 2014, p. 722). Inspiration can come from creating a sense of dominance, meaning that an effective leader may inspire performance from others due to their ability to make quick decisions, illustrate practicality and assertiveness (Stick & Hauserman, 2013). However, dominance must be handled in a manner in which it is inspiring rather than threatening.
When examining my own personal traits as they pertain to generalized leadership skills, I can determine what my strengths and weaknesses are by examining what I feel most comfortable with and what seems to be most troublesome for me in my career and as a leader. I believe that I am a trustworthy individual. I never partake in office gossip and am someone I believe that people feel confident in confiding in. I believe that most people view me as someone that they would come to if they felt the need to discuss a problem or conflict and I believe that that is a critical characteristic for an effective leader. I believe that I possess intelligence and competency in my field. I am knowledgeable about my duties and what is expected of me, and as such I take my education and the idea of continuing my training seriously. I believe that I am also competent in my job, I exhibit this by being reliable and emotionally stable in my ability to complete my duties. My weaknesses revolve around my ability to instantly relate with I believe that I am likeable, however I believe that I struggle with the ability to be open and outgoing with new people. This comes about as a result of shyness, I am a somewhat reserved person. This can affect my likeability in terms of how others perceive me and how comfortable they feel around me. Another area of my personality and leadership skills that require work is my ability to be assertive, dominant and able to make quick decisions. I find myself hesitating due to self-doubt in some moments, however, I believe that I can improve in these areas through professional development and experience that comes as a result of time in my position. I also believe that continued contingency training can also help me to develop my skills as an effective leader within the sphere of the educational system.
When I compare my own leadership traits to the effective leadership traits set forth by the ISLLC (the Interstate Schools Leaders Licensure Consortium), I can better understand where my own capabilities are strongest and also where they can use improvement. The most effective traits put forth by the ISLLC help to guide the leadership in the educational system to better approach their position as a leader and to create a more effective learning environment for their students. In doing so, they have created a guide to leadership within the context of education and educational development. The traits outlined by the ISLLC involve educational leaders developing a focus on: creating a vision, establishing and enforcing an effective curriculum, creating a student community, creating a professional environment for teachers and students, establishing a community of engagement for family members of students, maintaining school operations and management, following ethical practices and professional norms, being aware of equality and cultural responsiveness and ensuring continued development of school-based improvement ('2014 ISLLC Standards DRAFT FOR PUBLIC COMMENT', 2014). In regards to my own leadership skills and the ones set forth by the ISLLC, I believe that my education and preparation has prepared me to effectively facilitate all of the leadership goals that are proven to create an effective and successful cultural climate within my school. I find that my knowledge of ethical practices and the foundations of school operations is likely my strongest area of expertise in regards to these leadership traits. The area in which I feel I can most improve is in the development of the enforcement and oversight of my curriculum, as I feel that it is an area of professional development that I can most improve on from my experiences and future work within the field of educational leadership.
The development of effective leadership skills are important in almost every field imaginable. As such, personal traits and professional skills can be critical for ensuring that the role of a leader is both effective in inspiring people and guiding those around you. My belief is that successful leadership in education can be best established through the combination of both personal leadership skills and professional development of the leadership traits set forth by the ISLLC. That is to say that individual characteristic development and the leadership skills of the individual can help to create professional leadership among peers and subordinates within the context of current educational standards. The leadership guidelines of the ISLLC can help to apply those personal leadership skills by providing a description of successful leadership goals in the sphere of education. By following those guidelines and by maintaining a professional demeanor and culturally respectful environment, leaders within the educational system can create an environment where both students and teachers work towards the common goal of student success.
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