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  • Writer's pictureClint Holden, MA

The Making of a Great Christian School Leader

by Clint Holden, M.A.

In his book, Primal Branding, Patrick Hanlon has uncovered a remarkable parallel between branding and religious faith. In what he calls, the “Primal Code,” he finds seven points where branding and faith successfully intersect. While each could be argued as more important than another, it is clear that one, in particular, stands above the rest as the pivotal component in an organization.

A great leader can create an emotional connection with the consumer like no other in the organization. He or she has the influence, power, and control, if you will, to step into the minds and hearts of the constituents making an impression that is not soon forgotten, whether good or bad.

Think of the many organizations that have been led by both positive and not-so-positive leaders. Their names are emblazoned in the media and the minds of their followers, or… former followers. The same is true in Christian schools. Leadership changes bring changes in practice. Strong become weak, weak become powerful. So much of the success of an organization indeed rises and falls on leadership.

It is important to distinguish between the leader and the manager. Typically, Heads of School (HOS) should exhibit the characteristics of a leader rather than a manager. A Principal, on the other hand (under the HOS), might likely possess more qualities of a manager than the HOS. What does this look like in a practical sense? How about this:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.

  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.

  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.

  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.

  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.

  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.

  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.

  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.

  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

The difference may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment — effectiveness versus activities of mastering routines — efficiency. Many first-class managers turn out to have very distinctive leadership abilities. Many think they are leading, however, when they are managing. If those in leadership exhibit mostly a management style it can be harmful to growth, morale, and team drive. Consider the following to help identify some of those distinctions:

It’s not that being a manager is a bad thing! Possessing one style over the other is neither right nor wrong. God has called some to be leaders and some to be managers, I believe. This is a matter of rightly understanding roles and responsibilities. Leaders who are placed into manager roles will struggle to truly chart a destiny for their department or organization. Managers who are thrust into a leader’s role will forever be conscientious about getting the job done in a tidy manner but will struggle to think past the here and now and engage great ideas for the future.

Constituents may wrongly confuse good leadership with good management, too. As Christian schools we live in a day and age when standing above the crowd will take much more than a list of do’s and don’ts. It will take creative, bold thinkers with a knack to take the mundane and turn it into the extraordinary.

Good leadership is not a common day occurrence in Christian schools. Many times, though, good management is. And likewise, good leadership does not happen in a vacuum, but with many keen and wise advisors. As I conclude, consider these encouraging passages of Scripture from the book of Proverbs (NLT):

Proverbs 15:22 – Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.

Proverbs 24:6 – So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers. © by SchoolRIGHT, LLC., unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.


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