Innovation Leadership

By: Lyle Kirtman

America is a country that has flourished based on innovation. The worlds of medicine, private industry, and nonprofits are now embracing innovation as a key to solving age old problems. Unfortunately, the policy makers in education are creating an environment where leaders in the areas of greatest need, our cities, are being left behind.

Can a leader in education be innovative, get results and stay alive in their job in today’s public education world of compliance and accountability? Yes, but it takes courage, commitment and focus! Our attention nationally has shifted to hiring and developing instructional leaders in order to ensure that the focus is clear on improving student achievement. The premise is that if all our leaders in education concentrate on the classroom we will finally straighten out the educational problems that have existed for many years.

We have once again focused too narrowly on symptomatic solutions. Yes, instruction is key to improving student achievement. However, our educational leaders need to broaden, not narrow, their leadership competencies to be successful in today’s world. Other sectors are emphasizing innovation, external partnerships and customer service. Is education that different that the focus needs to be so internal? I propose that we realize that the true instructional leaders are our teachers and we broaden the concept of leadership to improve our school districts and schools. Innovation and leadership have been separate terms for years as were instruction and leadership. If we broadened our viewpoint and begin hiring innovative leaders that are focused on sustainable results for customers (students), we would transform our educational system.

I have found in my research of 1000 leaders in education nationally that we have already begun to transform our cultures slowly. In fact, our most successful leaders have a broad base of skills and competencies. Yes, they realize the importance of instruction and are skilled at developing teacher leaders who inform decision making and create innovative opportunities for students. These high performing leaders embrace innovation and have the curiosity to learn from their teachers, colleagues, leaders in education and even other sectors about building truly creative learning environments for staff and students.

Unfortunately, too many of these high performing leaders are in our suburban districts. While there is great potential for innovative leaders to emerge in rural and urban districts they are often discouraged by the national obsession for accountability and compliance as the key to improving student achievement. They feel they can’t be innovative because their schools and districts are being declared under-performing and must focus on meeting state and federal requirements to survive, leaving no room or time to transform their cultures into exciting and innovative places for true sustainable learning.

The policy makers seem to think that leaders in urban districts can’t be trusted to find new ways to improve student achievement. They are wrong! The best leaders are the ones who are not afraid to try new ways to get results. In fact, these great leaders even reach out to both public and private sector partners to increase their bandwidth to include new opportunities for the students in their districts.

The following are 7 Competencies that will help produce innovative leaders that build creative, sustainable learning environments with high expectations and great results for students.

Seven Competencies for High Performing Leaders in Education:

  1. Challenges the Status Quo
  2. Builds Trust through Clear Communication and Expectations
  3. Creates a Commonly Owned Plan for Success
  4. Focuses on Team over Self
  5. Has a High Sense of Urgency for Change and Sustainable Results in Improving Achievement
  6. Commitment to Continuous Improvement for Self and Organization
  7. Builds External Networks and Partnerships

Let’s change our focus now before it is too late and hire and develop leaders who can motivate our students and staff to achieving great results!

The Smart Cities blog series catalogs innovations in learning in America’s great cities. We’re writing a book about what we’re learning– and you can help.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 9.28.52 PMLyle Kirtman , CEO Future Management Systems, has consulted with 700 organizations on leadership development in the public and private sector (300 school districts). He served as the Chairperson of the Governor’s Task Force on Innovation in Mass. Lyle’s recent book entitled; Leadership and Teams: The Missing Piece of the Educational Reform Puzzle (Pearson Publishing) has been the basis of his presentations and consulting nationally. He is now co-authoring a new book on Leadership with internationally renowned author and speaker Michael Fullan.

Guest Author

Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Dr. Traci Elizabeth Teasley

Well said Lyle! Innovation and leadership are critical to addressing the multidimensional issues in our urban school districts. I am a complete fan of challenging the status quo for the benefit of our students, so kudos for a call to innovation! In my experience, there are instructional leaders in urban schools and school districts with the courage to innovate, but the culture in which they work does not reward or nurture innovation, so they diminish their creativity so they can guarantee their longevity. Not only do we need to develop leaders with these competencies, we need to also address the culture that suffocates those who already exhibit them; this way, the educational entrepreneurs who exhibit the 7 competencies you outline will become the rule, and not merely the exception to the rule in our urban centers.

Sharon H. Porter

You are absolutely correct! Each competency identified is crucial to achieve the levels of achievement desired in our public schools. It is my belief that in order to have Innovation leadership that you speak about, we as leaders in charge of developing leaders, must start with teacher leaders that desire to assume the role of assistant principal and continue building the bench with our assistant principals who desire to assume the role of principal.
My research focuses on principal preparation and as the coordinator for an induction program for new assistant principals in a large urban school district, I will definitely ensure that these competencies are evident throughout the curriculum of the program.
I can't wait to read your book!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.