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Overcoming your own anxiety to become an effective K-12 leader

5 steps everyone can take to improve their leadership ability

Create a Principal’s Advisory Committee of teacher leaders and administrators and be sure everyone has equal input. Rethink control as a sense of direction. Directing staff will provide a sense of control that is attractive to an anxious leader.

4. Have clarity in your own vision.
Anxiety can drive leaders to want to please everyone, causing them to tell people what they want to hear. Doing this is a major misstep in leadership, as is contradicting your own beliefs and goals to defend a new initiative. Placating teachers by telling them what they want to hear leads to inconsistent messages and, inevitably, a loss of direction or sense of control. Wait out the storm. Not everyone is going to immediately like your vision or goals, but sticking with them will provide structure and direction down the line—control that will ease anxiety. Communicate goals with staff in writing and print your goals on all school/community correspondence, e.g., 2019: the year of the student voice.

5. Be human.
Leadership is about more than just guiding educators towards a common goal; it’s about mentoring your staff and being a role model. The best role models are those who show humility. Arguably the most difficult of the five steps in this article, humility requires a high degree of vulnerability, which is something that a leader suffering from anxiety feels constantly. But society is very forgiving.

Related: How to think like a leader

Admitting mistakes and weaknesses will make you more human. Doing so will also help leaders relate to and know their staff, as well as to build personal relationships. Ask for help, say “I’m sorry,” owe successes to your staff and failures to yourself. Keep a journal and talk openly and honestly about your disappointments, your success, your failures, and your next steps. Reflect on your entries and remind yourself that although you don’t feel growth on a daily basis, you have grown significantly over time. Feelings of accomplishment will reduce anxiety and motivate a leader more.

Becoming an effective leader requires a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice. Although there are varying pathways to positions of leadership, from traditional programmatic training to opportunities born out of networking and connections, the skills necessary to become a successful leader remain unchanged. The variables exist in how leaders acquire and display said skills.

For the leader stricken with anxiety, acquisition of successful leadership qualities means identifying tangible and specific goals that allow you to feel accomplished and relatable when completed. In the game of educational leadership, it’s a marathon: Consistent, small accomplishments build a solid foundation for greater work to be done.

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