Leverage Your Personality Type
Are you an extrovert who’s outgoing and thrives in social settings? An introvert who gets energy from ideas and reflection? Or maybe you’re an “extrovert-introvert” principal who exhibits a mix of tendencies depending on the situation?
Every principal comes to the job with built-in personality traits that can help and hinder their leadership efforts. Type A personalities often seem like born leaders, but they could be squelching initiative. Introverts might have a passion for education, but they can shy from personal interactions.
No matter your type, you can leverage innate personality traits to shape an effective leadership style, say veteran principals. After all, your ability to manage and develop people is a key to success, says “How Principals Affect Students and Schools,” a 2021 research review commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. Building caring, communication, and trust, principals can customize their people skills in order to foster positive relationships and influence school outcomes.
“Great leaders use personality tendencies as contextual, and they use the tendencies based on the needs of the people they’re serving,” says self-proclaimed extrovert-introvert Latoya Dixon, a longtime principal and new assistant superintendent of academic innovation and professional learning for York (South Carolina) School District 1.
Principal leadership that cares is associated with increased student support and a sense of collective responsibility among teachers, says “Caring Leadership in Schools,” a 2016 study by Karen Seashore Louis, Joseph Murphy, and Mark Smylie.
You have the power within you to project that sense of caring, say veteran principals. Here’s how:
- Self-reflect with purpose. Ask yourself, “What did I need in a principal when I was a teacher and a student?”
- Journal. Start now, and your future self will thank you for using journaling as a tool to assess your relationships and personal growth.
- Relate: When the year begins, meet with every staff member and get to know them—their strengths, goals, wishes. Track progress by entering written or mental notes (taking notes during a conversation can be intimidating to some) in a spreadsheet.
- Find out what staff likes in aleader. Ask each staff member about leaders who resonate with them, and use the answers to customize your approach.
- Zip your lip and listen. Develop an ear for the ways in which people need to grow and how you can help them. Apply empathy to more than words spoken: Watch for body language, energy levels, and behavior patterns.
Communication is key to the development of interpersonal relationships, and it’s a factor in improved school outcomes. Strong communication builds shared expectations, which tracks with teacher satisfaction, cohesion, and commitment to the school.
Strategies for purposeful communication include open-door policies, weekly informational and recognitional emails to staff, and a readiness for challenging conversations, notes “Initiating Conversations and Opening Doors,” a 2017 study from researchers Liz Hollingsworth, Dorian Olsen, Asih Asikin-Garmager, and Kathleen M.W. Cunningham.
The extrovert gets the job done by talking in public and cheering on the team. The introvert takes alone time to recharge, reflect, and determine next steps.
Strategy and resourcefulness ensure that your communications are hitting the target. You can:
- Go formal. Perform leadership pulse checks three or four times a year. Discuss with staff the school’s strengths and areas of improvement, supports you can provide, and goals for the year.
- Go informal. Conduct quick Google Forms surveys, have chats, and offer links in the staff newsletter for submitting comments. Principals who are shy about one-on-one talks can use visibility in the school’s public spaces to demonstrate their commitment and show openness to hallway conversations that lead to great things.
- Prepare for the sting. When feedback hurts but has an element of truth, remember that this is about your professional growth and serving students to your maximum ability.
- Open other doors. Your open-door policy is only as good as the people who use it. If no one is knocking, ask if something about your leadership style makes people uncomfortable. Model what you’d like to see by making proactive visits to staff, students, and families. And of course, a candy jar on the desk doesn’t hurt.
- Ask students. Students offer unfiltered, honest feedback. If you skip the costume you usually wear for read-alouds, they will let you know. Encourage input by reminding them that they are your No. 1 customer and you value their suggestions.
- Repeat yourself. Collaborate to build a shared vision for the school, then be a broken record about that vision and your priorities. With all that repetition, staff will use that vision as a framework for making their own decisions. A shared vision also focuses feedback about your leadership effectiveness on the school’s ultimate objectives.
You know that cultivating trust is crucial. Veteran principals cite these strategies for cultivating trust through authenticity:
- Extroverts, use your strengths judiciously. Releasing control shows respect for the talents of others and empowers them to sharpen their leadership skills. Apply shared leadership, and take a deep breath when people do tasks differently than you would. Chances are, you’ll be amazed at the results.
- Introverts, feel free to let others take the spotlight. Show your strengths through compassion, a listening ear, encouragement, and quiet conversations that build relationships.
- Extrovert-introverts, harness both sides of your nature. The extrovert gets the job done by talking in public and cheering on the team. The introvert takes alone time to recharge, reflect, and determine next steps. Just be sure that your extrovert side protects your introvert’s precious time.
- Calibrate your presence. A tipoff that you’re too domineering or too shy? People are avoiding you. Extroverts, ease up; introverts, fill encounters with useful, actionable feedback.
- Know when to step in and when to step back. Even a quick thumbs-up asks the question, “Are you good?” Take cues from the staff. If they admit to being overwhelmed, don’t assume what they need. Partner on brainstorming a solution by asking, “How can I help?” Give staffers who show an affinity for an initiative the satisfaction of taking the lead.
- View decisions through others’ perspectives. For example, enlisting building custodians in implementing health protocols lets them share what’s practical.
- Dialog in facts. If you struggle with tough conversations, create a discussion framework that’s factual and constructive. Show the detrimental impact of the person’s actions. Let people know that you see them as team members with options for doing things differently.
- Smile! The staff is watching. When you can’t be your best, find an outlet such as meditation or take a well-deserved day off. “If everyone in our school had your attitude, what kind of place would it be?” says one principal.
- Apologize for errors. When you mishandle a situation, apologize and offer your action plan for making it right. Apologies don’t have to be wrenching, sit-down affairs. A quick one-on-one can go a long way.
Whether your school community sees an extrovert or an introvert in their principal, there will be times when your self-assurance sags. Don’t mask your insecurities, say veteran principals.
Try these tips to build a confidence in yourself that builds confidence in others:
- Change with the environment. The school setting changes constantly, and you must change with it. “Good, better, best; never rest till your good is better and your better is best,” says Farrell Thomas, principal of Gray Court-Owings School in Gray Court, South Carolina.
- Play the long game. Remind yourself what can realistically be accomplished or handled.
- Stop second-guessing yourself. Ground every decision in your core values and the promise of learning something new every day.
- Be yourself within the bigger picture. You earned this position because others believe in you, so “show them what you’ve got!” says Jamie Basignani, principal of Vincent Farm Elementary in White Marsh, Maryland. “Remember that this job isn’t about you. It’s about the students and staff. You should be there to lead them but step aside and let them take the credit when credit is due. It’s truly a team effort. When the school succeeds, everyone wins!”
M. Diane McCormick is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer and author.