The Pied Piper Principal

How to be the Pied Piper Principal
Whose Teachers Will Follow You Anywhere

You Gotta Know the Emotional Territory

Robert, a high school principal, was a divisive leader, cultivating a group of adoring followers among his faculty and his students and their parents, while at the same time, alienating a larger group who eventually petitioned the school board to replace him.  Even the school’s former principal, when asked to be a guest speaker at the school, declined, noting Robert’s behavior, and stating, “I will not set foot in that school as long as that arrogant young man is there.”

While school was out for the summer, Robert was replaced by Jim, an “outsider,” new to the district.  By the time school started again in the fall, there was, as one teacher noted, “a malaise” among the faculty.  Another teacher noted, “The wind just got knocked out of our sails when we found out that Robert wouldn’t be back.”

Jim set about his work.  He introduced himself to the faculty at their first meeting and explained that he was a well-qualified principal with 15 years’ experience in another district and that he had earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership from a state university.  He also wanted to make sure that all teachers were familiar with his new rules, which he proceeded to explain in excruciatingly irritating detail.  The list went on and on — exact procedures for signing in and signing out, how copy paper would be rationed, removal of coffee pots from individual classrooms, mandatory after-school meetings once a week.  By the time he had finished with his first meeting, there was a quiet revolution brewing, and it didn’t get any better as the school year continued.  By the end of the year, Jim resigned from the district to take a job in the oil industry.

If Jim had understood that while his leadership from a power position might have worked in his old school, what was needed in this new environment was a different kind of leadership, one that engendered admiration, respect, and positive feelings for the teachers who were existing in a quiet, brooding air.

In contrast, the Pied Piper Principal, the Leader Principal, knows the steps to take to lead so that his teachers will follow him anywhere.

The appropriate leadership style is dictated by the school’s environment.

The Pied Piper Principal knows that there is no such thing as one-style-fits-all leadership style and understands that the appropriate leadership style is dictated by the school’s environment.

Much of the frustration and stress that principals face today comes from feeling overwhelmed by the constantly changing environment.  With schools increasingly dealing with societal, budgetary, legal, governmental, cultural, ethical and bureaucratic pressures, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

Adding to the stress are those inevitable glitches in the system — the computers are down, the electricity goes off in the windowless school, the air conditioning is not working, and the buses are not running on schedule.

In addition, interpersonal conflicts among faculty members, impromptu meetings with disgruntled parents, and the principal’s own, personal issues at home, result in what one principal described as “a juggling act trying to keep so many fire batons up in the air.”

Often, principals, rather than realizing that they must adapt their leadership style to meet changing needs and demands, hold on to the idea that “this is the way it’s done around here!”  However, by taking this stance, they disown their own power to meet the demands of a new situation rather than consciously choosing attitudes and behaviors to make things better.

Different environments demand different leadership methods.

The bottom line for the Pied Piper Principal is to know the answers to the basic questions regarding what motivates people and how to access the emotional environment of the school.

Many a frustrated principal has said, “Yes, but … that’s easier said than done.”

For example, when there is an environment in which there is low teacher morale, the Pied Piper Principal exerts positive influence by actions and words that are inspiring and that generate enthusiasm and optimism in others.  It’s certainly not the time to use the adage, “Firings will continue until morale improves.”

In a climate that has teachers demoralized and feeling hopeless, it is time for the leader to offer hope and optimism and to reach out to faculty to excel beyond their own perceived limitations.  It is the time for the Pied Piper Principal to help their faculty develop a realistic perspective about who they are, what the situation demands, and what they can do.

The leadership style that is most appropriate is the one that is demanded by the environment.

The Pied Piper Principal knows the needs of the faculty, the culture of the organization, the organizational environment, and, accordingly, consciously chooses the type of leadership to use.  The leadership style that is most appropriate is the one that is demanded by the environment.

The word consciously is the key word here, as opposed to “doing what comes naturally,” which usually does not work.  Leadership is a skill, and, as with any skill, it improves with practice.

The Pied Piper Principal is no more born a Leader Principal than a doctor is born a doctor.  Leader Principals are born a boy or a girl, and they learn through living, experiences, formal training, intuition, and observation how to lead.

So, what are the lessons for today?

  1. There is no one-style-fits-all leadership style.
  2. The Pied Piper Principal understands the emotional environment of the school and chooses the appropriate leadership style.
  3. Different environments demand different leadership styles.
  4. The Pied Piper Principal knows that the ultimate Continuing Education is Life.  It is through living, intuition, and experiences, honed by formal training, that one becomes the Pied Piper Principal whose teachers will follow them anywhere.
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