Inspiring Educators Who Inspire Future Leaders

School Leadership: Jim Collins’ The “X Factor” of Great Leadership

I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in February where author Jim Collins was the conference’s opening day speaker.  During the lead up to his session, I wondered what he might discuss during his talk and its relationship to his latest book, Great by Choice. To my surprise, the central theme of his talk was not only relevant to the conference but also a subject that I often think about: if schools can choose to be great then how do we ensure that all schools are great? Who will lead our schools to greatness? What are their qualifications?

With those questions in my mind, I listened to Jim Collins and left with a renewed sense of my own leadership qualities as well as the importance of understanding great leadership and what makes a leader great. According to Collins, great leadership “is [not just] personality.”  Collins believes “charismatic personality doesn’t always cut it when it comes to great leadership.” When defining great leadership, Collins believes the key component (or the X factor) to great leadership is “humility combined with an incredible will.” The notion that qualities like modesty and sincerity outweigh the necessity to be ruthless and arrogant was not only refreshing but down right encouraging because for me it honors the idea that great leaders walk among their constituency groups (that there is a connection that must exist between the leader of the organization and his or her employees if he or she is to be a great leader). Like Collins, I believe great leaders seek to “always ask what people think instead of telling people what they think.” This is a fundamental truth for me because I think all institutions (especially schools) should be places of engagement. Places where collaboration, partnership, and team work are not just words in the company manual but are behaviors (actions) that are modeled from top to bottom within the organization. I sincerely believe true engagement in any organizational model will determine its overall greatness.

Please do not misunderstand me … the ability to be tough, and to effectively confront and solve problems when problems arise is essential when defining great leadership. I also think efficiency when solving problems is just as important to great leadership as well. However, with Collins model, these qualities don’t have to trump a leader’s ability to connect with others. It was truly inspiring to know that the leadership skills that my grandfather possessed (while important) did not undermine the leadership skills that I believe make me an effective leader today.



About principalaim

Head of Lower School & Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Louisville Collegiate School

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