Monday, April 9, 2018

What's My Purpose for Leading?

Originally published in Scholastic - April 16, 2015

The principalship is such a complex position replete with a multiplicity of day-to-day challenges that quite frankly, not all principal candidates are built to meet. To be successful in this business, one must be able to juggle and handle all the challenges that typically accompany the principalship. Those challenges range from student achievement, student motivation, student conduct, staff effectiveness, staff morale, parental engagement to school safety and everything in between. It truly takes a special person to lead a school whether it be at the elementary, middle or high school levels and whether it be urban, rural or suburban schools.

With the myriad challenges that principals face, the self-reflection process is unavoidable. If the principal is going to perform consistently at an optimal level, self-reflection, self-assessment and self-adjustment must be a major component of the principal’s practice.

There are so many aspects of the principalship that require regular self-reflection. When I compiled my fifty reflective questions for The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence, I categorized them into the following ten categories:

·      The Attitude of the Leader
·      School Brand
·      School Climate and Culture
·      Building Collegial Relationships
·      Instructional Leadership
·      Accountability and Responsibility
·      Planning, Organization and Time Management
·      Professional Learning for the Leadership
·      Professional Learning for Staff
·      Parental and Community Engagement

For the remainder of this article, I want to focus on question one of the first category – The Attitude of the Leader.

Do I lead with a definite purpose that drives everything I say and do?
Here, I’m asking the principal “Why?” I’m asking the principal the question, “Why do you lead and why do you want to lead?” In other words, I’m asking, “What is your purpose for leading? What drives you? What moves you? Why bother to do this work?  As the principal of the school, you must have a definite purpose for leading your school that goes well beyond traditional responses such as, “To provide my students with a world class education?” In other words, a purpose such as the aforementioned is noble indeed, but I want the principal to “dig much deeper.” I want the principal to develop a purpose that is very special and unique to both him/herself and the overall school community. Whatever the principal’s purpose becomes will be the driving force behind everything he/she says and everything he/she does within the realm of the principalship.

I often compare the principal’s purpose to words in a dictionary. I remind principals that every word in the dictionary has a definition, bar none. I remind them that there is no word in the dictionary with a blank space next to it. Each word has a definition - its meaning. The principal’s purpose works the same way. When the principal has no defined purpose for his / her principalship, then essentially his/her principalship has no meaning. This principal is therefore showing up to work and even doing the things that are required but as it relates to the attitude of the leader and thereby leading with a definite purpose, this principal is leading at a disadvantage. In other words, there is nothing that he/she put in place that drives him/her….that moves him/her….that defines his/her leadership.

The principal’s purpose is absolutely essential to the overall success of a school. When I was a principal for example, my purpose was, “To motivate, educate and empower every student in the building.” This was my personal purpose. Said differently, it was my personal reminder of why I woke up in the morning. It was my alarm clock. It screamed out to me every day that my role was for all of my students to be motivated. It screamed out to me every day that my role was for all of my students to be educated. It screamed out to me every day that my role was for all of my students to be empowered. This probably sounds simple but it’s not. It said that the burden that I carried on my shoulders was that as a result of my leadership, my students would be motivated, educated and empowered. This is what drove my words and my actions daily.

As the leader of a school, the principal’s attitude matters. Inherent in the principal’s attitude is his/her purpose for leading. In that vein, the principal must pay attention to the “why”…his/her purpose for leading in the first place.


  1. I like this purpose. You will become a great leader one day.

  2. My purpose is..."To Be Better". It is fairly plain, but I feel I can explain it to mean so many different things. Yes it is broad stroked, but in the end, we want to be that much better than we were yesterday.


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