Pick a number, any number…

So what is it about numbers and lists that compel writers to offer us “5 steps…, “4 things…”, “10 claims…”,  “7 habits…”, providing us advice in all aspects of our lives?  Of course, we want to understand and benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of others.  However, in our sound-bitten world a series of headings and a paragraph or two of explanation appears to prevail.

For some time I have been interested in these lists, in particular those about leadership, and what has fascinated me is the direction in which they lead.  There is always a degree of overlap, with similar and indeed identical elements appearing in a wide range of lists that provide guidance on how to become a better leader.  Values, moral purpose, personal well-being, communication, trust, professional development and data analysis, among others, appear in lists that indicate the traits which would lead to effective performance.

So, to understand where exactly these lists lead us I took a look at a number of them, starting with 10 things (although Tubbs & Schulz go much higher) and working my way down to one (hopefully).

I spent the evening on Google searching for lists on leadership traits put forward by writers and key thinkers.  Its not terribly scientific, although I tried to ensure that I focused on sources that had greater gravitas and reliability.  What emerged from this evening’s exercise was a gradual distillation of key elements or traits and the revisiting of the classic study undertaken by Kurt Lewin in 1939.  This distillation lead inevitably to what leadership is, and always has been, at its very core from ancient times through to our oft-revised, present day models.

So here is my reading list.  I apologise for #2 – although the Two Things Game is enlightening.  It starts with 10 and works its way down to the core leadership competency.

And so finally, running through these numbers gave me the opportunity to tune out the “noise” about leaders and leadership into the essence summed up in this LinkedIn post by Eliot Frick “The one thing you can do to not suck“: Forget Yourself.

As with the power of giving, which I’ve written about previously, the single, immutable trait of all successful leaders, and indeed successful humans, is the understanding of the primacy of the needs of others.  We cannot lead with any kind of conviction or sustainability if we serve ourselves and our own interests first.  We must be, as leaders, duty bound to place the needs of our organisations, our staff teams and our clients (the children, and to a lesser extent their parents, in our schools) before our own.

This is why within the “10 strong claims about successful school leadership”, identified by the National College for Teaching & Leadership, lie the “8 key dimensions of successful leadership” and, at the heart of these, the well-being and achievement of our students.

Simon Sinek, sums it up most succinctly.  When one is the most important number, that “one” is not you…