Authors: Joseph Jones, Salome Thomas-El and T.J. Vari
Passion is the fuel that drives every great leader to be their best and to influence the success of those around them. Passionate leaders are contagious because their work transcends the routine policies and practices that are designed to drive a task; instead of working for assignment completion, they focus on values. Their work moves beyond the mundane toward significance and the daily interactions they have with others that create meaningful relationships (Dalio, 2017). Passionate leadership is defined by a leader’s keen ability to combine three elements: a growth mindset, a strong work ethic, and a positive attitude. The challenge that passionate leaders face is that to maintain this critical combination, we must learn how to overcome some of the counterintuitive aspects of practicing each consistently.
The Power of a Growth Mindset
The first element in the makeup of a passionate leader is the desire to grow as a person to increase one’s overall effectiveness. Passionate leaders believe two things: 1. They believe that they can and will grow as a result of professional learning experiences, and 2. They believe that growing is essential to leading better for the sake of others. The growth mindset of a passionate leader is the power that they have in helping themselves to help others. They want to accomplish more by adding more value, and they know that they will succeed if they can improve their own capacity along the way. As leaders we can fall into the trap that our job is to consistently develop others, but without self-development, we can’t be our best for everyone else (Lawrence, 2017).
Spotlight: Justin Comegys and Ry Culver are two Delaware educators. They demonstrate the power of a growth mindset, and they inspire others to do the same. Both of these influencers are taking risks, creating curious environments for teachers and students, and sending the message that the learning systems of the past are not what students need in the future. You can find more from Justin and Ry on Twitter @twoguysde.
The Power of a Strong Work Ethic
When things get tough, passionate leaders choose to respond with more energy and enthusiasm. Often, when work piles up, we can be tricked into believing that systems, more support, and perhaps a better balance in our life will reduce stress and anxiety. The truth is that passionate leaders never ask for a lighter load, instead they pray for a stronger back, which is the work ethic they invoke to overcome a challenge. We tend to think that “work ethic” is doing more, digging into the thick of things to get unstuck, but that doesn’t work to gain momentum. Spinning the wheels faster will rarely lift you into a better position with any given problem. The best examples of a real work ethic, alternatively, are when we stay focused, “obsessing” on what matters most to yield the greatest result (Hansen, 2018). Passionate leadership requires leaders to have precision in all of their resolve to produce results and create new outcomes. It’s all about a concerted effort in the right direction, and not just about doing more. It means working harder for a stronger capacity, not complacency.
Spotlight: Cynthia Jewell is no stranger to hard work. In fact, when challenges surface, and the path seems to be getting even more arduous, Cynthia pushes forward with more grit and determination. She told us a story about a time at Stockbridge Elementary when she experienced a 40% teacher turnover due to a journey that the school began, which included a harder look at student performance, collaborative structures in PLCs, and frequent visits to classrooms to provide instructional feedback. The resistance, though, transformed itself to a newly found purpose and passion over time, and it came with better results and improved experiences for students. You can learn more from Cynthia on Twitter @SESPRINCIPAL16.
The Power of a Positive Attitude
Positivity might be the most important ingredient in a leader, and it’s a practiced skill. In fact, positive psychology has a growing body of research from which to draw. Researchers have typically been apt to study general patterns by ignoring outliers, but in the area of positivity, more is being done to look at how the most positive people behave that everyone else can learn to replicate (Achor, 2010). Although counter to what we might think about positivity, it can be learned and consistently applied, even during adverse situations (Breuning, 2007). Positivity is not a fool’s attempt to ignore reality, but a wise man’s approach to confronting all situations. Passionate leaders always build a winning team, not because they have great expertise, necessarily; their advantage is that they have learned how to keep a positive mindset, grounded in purpose and focused on achieving predetermined goals.
Spotlight: Taylor Armstrong is about as inspiring as any educator we’ve met. He is constantly lifting others and showing the way. As a “tech-guy,” he developed networks of student-led tech teams to support a 1:1 movement in his district. The best part, as he explained, was the ways in which the students were celebrated. The positivity that Taylor brings to the work we do is what keeps himself and others on the fast track to success. You can join in on the fun by following Taylor on Twitter @TAYLOR_does_IT.
Making Mantras Matter
As leaders, we often need reminders about theimportant work versus what might get put on our plates as the urgent workof the day. We like to use mantras as messages to ourselves regarding how to stay focused on our core beliefs. Valuing growth experiences, work ethic, and a positive outlook is critical to success, but even more than value is action. Great leaders are always focused on the intentional pursuit of excellence. It requires determination and daily impact. The definition of leadership is influence. The challenge of leadership is conflict. The result of leadership is change. We do not get to overcome conflict to make change through influence without learning to grow, working hard, and staying positive. We use the following three mantras on a regular basis to refresh our thinking and our intentions as we approach all of our tasks in work and life. They ignite our passion, and we hope you’ll use them to ignite your own.
Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School is scheduled to be released in June 2019, by Corwin. It’s a deep dive into what great leaders do, including real stories from the field, so that you can ignite your passion every single day in life and work.
Joseph Jones is the Director of Assessment and Accountability in the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District in Delaware. He is a national presenter and co-author of Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools and the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.
Salome Thomas-EL is a nationally recognized speaker and the Principal of Thomas Edison Charter School in Delaware. He is the author of The Immortality of Influence and I Choose to Stay. He is a co-author of the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.
T.J. Vari is the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He is a national presenter and a co-author of Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools and the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Random House, Inc.
Breuning, L.G. (2007). The science of positivity: Stop negative thought patterns by changing your brain chemistry. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Dalio, R. (2017). Principles: Life and work. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hansen, M. (2018). Great at work: How top performers do less, work better, and achieve more. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Lawrence, K. (2017). Your oxygen mask first: 17 habits to help high achievers survive & thrive in leadership & life. Lioncrest Publishing.