Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset. (Tacitus, Histories, 1.49)
"Everyone agreed he would have made a fine emperor...if he had never actually been emperor."
Aside from its being one of my favorite, bitingly witty lines, this assessment of the Roman emperor Galba by the historian Tacitus speaks to a central truth of leadership. It is something that must be learned and developed. This is not to say that there are no natural leaders, but the gift of leadership must be nurtured and brought into its full flower.
Just as many people think that teaching is something anyone can do, so a common and equally misguided assumption is that leadership is an automatic function of position. As Galba and so many others have demonstrated through the ages, title alone does not a leader make.
Enter Liz Wiseman and Elise Foster, authors of The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools. You can read about these phenomenal leaders who train other leaders here. I first encountered this book through a leadership summit at which Liz took the stage alongside such leadership greats as Gen. Colin Powell (ret.), Jim Collins, and Patrick Lencioni. Liz and Elise have identified five principles for leadership that will help everyone get better at their game, but unlike some books of pure theory, theirs contains many examples of classrooms, schools, and districts that have put them into practice and found success. This is not one more thing for a school to do in a long list of things to do. It is a framework for helping people live to their potential, and at the end of the day, is that not what education is all about?
Yesterday I had the pleasure of entertaining Elise at our school. We went to lunch along with my department chair, Traci Rodgers, who had also read The Multiplier Effect and has incorporated key components in each of our department meetings this semester. We talked about education and leadership, but the most exciting part for me was when she met with my Latin Club officers in the afternoon. Our school has one of the largest chapters of the Indiana Junior Classical League in Indiana (some years we are the largest), and our officers are engaged in authentic leadership. Not only do they plan the usual things like pizza and movie nights, but they also lead significant community service projects such as Reading the War on Poverty and Fabrica Ursam, which has our students making stuffed animals and writing fables for patients at Riley Hospital for Children. These are the kind of teen leaders who have written a grant proposal for the United Way to obtain funds to create a literacy garden at a local elementary school. When I saw the opportunity to put young teen leaders in the same room with a world-class leadership trainer, I couldn't open the door fast enough.
If you have not read The Multiplier Effect, order it right now. You will want to read and highlight it and share it with other leaders. As I said, this is not one more program to implement. It is a way of approaching people to help them develop their own best gifts. As I have written before, this is what motivates me as a teacher.