9 Behaviors of Trusted School Leaders

Trusted school leaders acknowledge and understand that clear communication with all stakeholders is serious work. Simply because the school leader releases a press statement, produces a newsletter, or delivers a well-crafted speech does not guarantee they have communicated. When engaging and interacting with all groupings of stakeholders, skilled and trusted school leaders exhibit the following positive traits:*

  1. Trusted School Leaders Listen. One essential skill to effective communication is the ability to control the tongue. Trusted school leaders know how to be quiet and listen to others intentionally and actively.
  2. Trusted School Leaders Empathize. Empathy does not necessarily mean agreement with positions; rather, empathy is the ability to understand and treat others’ varying opinions with respect.
  3. Trusted School Leaders Avoid Manipulation. The use of verbal manipulation is a guaranteed method for creating distrust in leadership. Trusted school leaders are communicators who neither overstate nor understate issues or situations.
  4. Trusted School Leaders Speak Honestly. Similar to the point of avoiding manipulation, a leader who keeps to the facts and does not allow for exaggeration will experience increasing levels of trust in their leadership.
  5. Trusted School Leaders Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions. One of the school leader’s essential responsibilities is to evaluate and reflect on every element of school operation through its central mission, vision, and core values. This central focus is reflected at all times, whether in general conversations, formal presentations, or prepared social media postings.
  6. Trusted School Leaders Ask Questions. Just as trusted school leaders are active and intentional listeners, they are also skilled in asking inquiry questions to gather new and greater amounts of information and discovery questions to determine a path forward in determining solutions.
  7. Trusted School Leaders Keep an Open Mind and Wait to Make Conclusions. Making a decision before reviewing all of the data regarding an issue extends and exacerbates school issues and problems. Less than fully informed decision-making fosters distrust.
  8. Trusted School Leaders Do Not Criticize. There is a major difference between criticizing and analyzing. Trusted school leaders can consider ideas, concepts, and views from varying perspectives – then provide a critique of those views without engaging in criticism of the ideas or the individuals supporting those ideas.
  9. Trusted School Leaders Simplify the Complicated. A major part of the school leader’s role involves maintaining a birds-eye view of all the issues surrounding successful school operation and the complex factors affecting policy creation and decision-making in the school’s best and fullest interests. A gifted and skilled communicator helps others to see complex ideas through simple language.

Leaders are highly persuasive when exhibiting the above traits – because they are highly trusted. One of the premier objectives of any school leader is establishing high levels of trust in the institution and trust in the leadership. School leaders who are clear communicators go a long way in supporting those objectives.

©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved

*This list is based on descriptors identified as commonalities of “Clear Communicators” in David Horsager’s The Trust Edge.

Recommended Reading:

  • D. B. Rane, “Good listening skills make efficient business sense,” IUP Journal of Soft Skills 5, no. 4 (2011): 43-51.
  • Svetlana Holt and Joan Marques, “Empathy in Leadership: Appropriate or Misplaced? An Empirical Study on a Topic that is Asking for Attention,” Journal of Business Ethics 105, no. 1 (2012): 95-105.
  • Michael E. Brown and Linda K. Trevillo, “Ethical leadership: A review and future directions,” Leadership Quarterly 17, no. 6 (2006): 595-616.
  • Shelley A. Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke, “Leadership: do traits matter?” Academy of Management Executive 5, no. 2 (1991): 48-60.
  • A. Gregory Stone and Kathleen Patterson, “The History of Leadership Focus,” Leadership (August 2005): 1-23.
  • Annie Yeadon-Lee, “Leading with questions: how leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask,” Action Learning: Research and Practice 7333, (May 2015): 1-2.
  • Ann M. Martin, “Data-Driven Leadership,” School Library Monthly 28, no. 2 (2011): 31-33.
  • Birgit Schyns and Jan Schilling, “How bad are the effects of bad leaders? A meta-analysis of destructive leadership and its outcomes,” Leadership Quarterly 24, no. 1 (2013): 138-158.
  • Jonathan Wood, “Keep it simple, stupid!” Materials Today 9, no. 10 (2006): 1.
  • Greg Ciotti, “5 Ways to Develop a Unique Selling Proposition,” Convince & Convert, accessed 20 June 2016, http://www.convinceandconvert.com/digital-marketing/5-ways-to-develop-a-unique-selling-proposition/.


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