EDITORS NOTE: Dr. Michael McGough, who spent his career in public education in Pennsylvania, and was a professor of education and chair of the department at York College, has twice been a keynote speaker at NJSBA’s Workshop. In 2013, he presented “Leadership Under Fire: Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg,” and in 2014, he spoke on “Leadership Under Fire: Lessons from the White House.” He has also provided leadership training to the NJSBA Board of Directors. Below he shares some of his insights on the topic of leadership. 

Organizational leadership has a broad range of universal realities at its core. When operationalized, these truths power leadership. When ignored they complicate it.

Thus, a thoughtful awareness of these leadership actualities should be a functional attribute of the mindset of 21st century educational leaders.

These universal leadership realities tend to transcend time, place, and situational circumstances. Unfortunately, there is no all-encompassing or well-defined list of leadership truths. More often than not, they are informally imparted from one generation of leaders to the next, or learned through the trial-and-error process of experience. And although experiential learning provides enduring lessons, the process can be complicated and problematic for both the leader and those being led.

Because some of these realities often run counter to the somewhat naïve notions and beliefs of the idealist, leaders are often trapped between what they believe should be, and that which is. Addressing that which is, while holding on to what should be, is one of the eternal conflicts for leaders. However, that conflict can be eased when realities are thoughtfully considered, purposefully included in planning, and consistently acted upon.

As leaders work through the challenges they inevitably face and endeavor to make the most of opportunities they invariably encounter, thoughtful attention to these realities is essential. In time, that focused attention can become a driving force in their philosophy of leadership.  That philosophy then shapes their leadership character, guides their thinking, and ultimately powers their words and their actions.

A functional awareness of what is known about leadership will allow you to make the most of your potential as a leader. Learning the known frees you up to broaden and deepen the tide of progress within your organization. Henry Ford provides a solid example. Because he knew the ancient reality of the wheel, and learned the more modern reality of the internal combustion engine, he was able to develop the Model T. Had he not been familiar with the wheel and the internal combustion engine, the car that put the world on wheels may never have been.

As an educational leader, ask yourself how an enhanced awareness of the universal realities of leadership might expand and enrich your potential as a leader?

Michael McGough, a retired educator, writes and presents seminars and keynote speeches on the topic of leadership. Think Like a Leader, a blog based on leadership realities, is now available under the blog tab at the website Leadershipmrm.com. Michael McGough’s email address.