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20 tenets of responsive leadership

2 min read


This list is not a recipe, but more a map — a way of approaching leading as a learner, not from a pedestal or from the stands, but on the ground.

  1. If you are a swimmer, or not, it is about buoyancy –lightness, grace and flow — and stamina — determination and endurance.
  2. Never ask people to do something you would not do.
  3. Save the carrots and sticks for the research lab. Acknowledge, praise and inspire effort and initiative.
  4. Humility is humbling. It shows others that blood runs through your veins as well.
  5. Never take yourself too seriously.
  6. Abstain from finger pointing and seeking blame. Count your losses, learn and move on.
  7. Listen to others respectfully, intentionally and in earnest.
  8. Look problems in the eye and never delay.
  9. Seek multiple perspectives.
  10. Embrace mistakes. They are opportunities in disguise cloaked in disappointment and failure.
  11. Be inclusive, collaborative and open, but close, your door when required.
  12. Avoid back-to-back meetings, people who like to hear themselves talk, and those who are territorial.
  13. Keep dissent in its rightful place. Just don’t look to shout over it.
  14. Communicate consistently, accurately and in earnest. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  15. Be strategic. Everything has a short and long term gain or not. Look ahead, behind and sideways on every decision of consequence.
  16. Act with integrity, mindfulness and trustworthiness. Whatever comes round will always land on your lap.
  17. Tap into the collective and individual experience, wisdom and intelligence of every member of your staff. It breeds a sense of belonging and fortifies unity.
  18. Look in the mirror. Breathe and hold yourself accountable to the very core of why you chose to lead.
  19. Keep your ears to the ground, and two hands on the steering wheel. Arrogance is dotting on yourself in the rear view mirror and taking your eyes off the road.
  20. Avoid jargon, slogans and platitudes. Language is the most powerful tool you possess

David Penberg is an urban and international educational leader. Most recently he headed Stevens Cooperative School as an interim, and prior to that he was head of school at the Benjamin Franklin International School in Barcelona and head of studies at the American School Foundation in Mexico City.