Do One Thing Today to Unleash the Leadership Potential in Your School

Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

February/March 2011 Link Lines

The November/December 2010 issue of Link Lines explored how “modeling the way” and “encouraging the heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007) can help make your school a positive place in which to work and learn. In this issue, we continue to explore the five practices of highly effective leaders identified by Kouzes and Posner with a look at “enabling others to act” (p. 20). 

Kouzes and Posner (2007) noted that “leaders make it possible for others to do good work … Leaders work to make people feel strong, capable, and committed. Leaders enable others to act not by hoarding the power they have but by giving it away” (p. 21). Similarly, Fullan (2001) stressed that “the litmus test of all leadership is whether it mobilizes people’s commitment to putting their energy into actions designed to improve things” (p. 9).

Nurturing the strengths of others is a practical way to ensure that the many leadership tasks that must be carried out in a successful school are executed efficiently and effectively. Showing knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment; serving as a change agent; and evaluating the effectiveness of school practices are just some of the tasks that must take place (Cotton, 2003; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). Since “it would be rare, indeed, to find a single individual who has the capacity or will to master such a complex array of skills” (Marzano et al., p. 99), school leaders must develop and nurture others so that they can contribute to the success of the school.

What can school leaders do to nurture the talents of the people with whom they work and unleash the power of collaborative action? To get started, school leaders can reflect upon the following questions, based on the work of Kouzes and Posner (2007), to identify areas of strength and leadership actions to consider.

Enable Others to Act

  • Do I say “we” more often than “I”? (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 20) 
  • Have I been the first to demonstrate trust with my co-workers by 
    • sharing information about me and my beliefs, 
    • acknowledging my mistakes, 
    • recognizing the need for personal improvement, 
    • asking for feedback, 
    • really listening to others,
    • involving others in meetings,
    • sharing information,
    • celebrating the contributions of others,
    • being willing to change my mind when presented with a better idea,
    • avoiding negative talk about others, and
    • stating and believing that I can trust others? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 228)
  • Do I provide formal and informal opportunities for people to interact? (Kouzes & Posner,  p. 246)
  • Do I strengthen others by supporting their decisions and not controlling their actions? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 253)
  • Do I provide choices and alternatives? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 256)
  • Do I hold people accountable and responsible for their choices? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 257)
  • Do I make sure that people have opportunities to develop new skills? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 266)
  • Do I hold monthly coaching conversations that address what is going well, what needs attention, and how I can be supportive? (Kouzes & Posner, p. 273)

The expectation that all students will achieve academically is a primary focus for schools today. Thus, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 requires schools and school divisions to close the achievement gap between traditionally low-performing student groups, including students with disabilities, and their typically achieving peers. Further, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 mandates that schools provide a high-quality education for students with disabilities. In order to meet these goals, school leaders must draw upon the skills and talents of all stakeholders. What is one thing that you will do today that unleashes the leadership potential of others?


Cotton, K. (2003). Principals and student achievement: What the research says. Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

For more information on Leadership, visit Kouzes and Posner’s website at  and the School Leadership Institute at the College of William and Mary School of Education at

For resources on strength-based leadership, visit

For more information about coaching, visit

To hear Dr. Jim Knight, Research Associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, reflect upon the importance of building partnerships for learning in schools click on