The Myth of the Super Leader


“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” -Tom Rath, author of Strengths-Based Leadership.

I love this quote because it addresses one of the biggest sources of stress that principals face: the expectation we have of ourselves to be Super Leaders. We read our journals, attend conferences, listen to our colleagues in meetings and inevitably assume that we have to do it all. Everywhere we turn it seems like we meet principals who have ideas we’ve never imagined and strengths we don’t possess. When we hear tales about the remarkable steps others are taking at their schools, we compare ourselves and wind up feeling inadequate. At our lowest moments, who among us hasn’t had the thought, “I wonder if I’m even cut out for this job?”

Truth is, there is no such thing as a Super Leader, except in our own minds. In my work with TBC coaching clients, (all of whom are principals), we invariably spend time talking about the “inner critic” who’s non-stop chatter highlights the strengths of others and the perceived weaknesses in ourselves. Our inner critic loves to knock us down and rob us of our confidence by constantly reminding us of what we’re not – not creative enough, not insightful enough, not as innovative as our peers. For those of us who seek increased personal effectiveness and peace of mind, learning to quiet our inner critic is step one.

Tom Rath points out that the best leaders are those who are aware of their strengths, and who spend their time and energy playing to them. As far as their weaknesses, they’re not all that concerned. They’ve let go of their futile desires to be well-rounded. Instead, they surround themselves with people who are gifted in ways that complement their own skill set. They focus on creating well-rounded teams, rather than well-rounded individuals. I have been working with my teachers and support staff for quite a while. They are well aware of my expertise AND the areas of endeavor that I never touch. I gave up the Super Leader act early on with them and simply acknowledged my strengths and weaknesses. When I did this I began leading with more authenticity and quickly gained their respect. I also encourage my employees to focus on and develop their own talents. Today, everyone in our organization is freed up to do what they do best, and to lean on each other for support when needed.

What are your strengths and how do you capitalize on them? What strengths do others have that complement your own? I encourage you to let go of the myth of the Super Leader and instead, use your gifts to serve your people. They need you to do what you do best – and to do it well.