Leading from the Center: An Evolutionary Approach to leadership!

In the course of your careers as leaders in the pupil transportation industry, chances are you’ve experienced several approaches to management and leadership. Most of us have real-life examples of powerful and positive leaders, as well as heartbreaking examples of leadership failures and poor leaders. In most cases, the positive examples give us a blueprint for how to be, and the negative experiences show us what we don’t want to be!

I’m a leadership junkie! I love leadership, leaders and the opportunity to be a leader! For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the biographies of leaders; books on techniques and styles of leadership; and every article, TED Talk or speaker I can access about the subject. As I have studied leadership, it has convinced me that leadership is a choice. Every leader has an opportunity to create their own leadership profile and methodology.

While my career and graduate education have been blessed with exceptional leaders, I’d be remiss if I failed to talk here about the other side of leadership. I have endured managers, supervisors and leaders who were self-centered, unorganized, spiteful and unprepared to be leaders. I have watched the ramifications of their actions and seen the damage that it can do firsthand. Litigation, low employee morale, high staff turnover, poor service and chaos have often been the results. Today, thanks to social media and access, we can witness daily examples around our world of the impacts of poor leadership. We all pay a price for bad leaders. 

As I grew in my career, I often recognized what I did not want to be as a leader. I did not want to play favorites, succeed at the cost of others, make decisions that negatively impacted students and organizations, and spread negativity. I looked at the bad examples as what I called my negative role models. I was sure of what I didn’t want to be before I knew what I wanted to be!

School transportation people are an interesting group. They are often very humble, and while they have great responsibilities, they often act as if they don’t! They want to get in, get the job done and do it well. Serving their students and organizations is their first priority. While I love and respect this part of their personalities, I see so much more!

When I decided to get a Ph.D., I wanted to study something I cared about and would love to learn more and more about. I wanted my research and, ultimately, my dissertation to contribute to the leadership of education at all levels. As I planned my research, I asked myself, “Is there a way to identify powerful and positive leadership and replicate it in other organizations. What are the best leaders doing right?”

I studied all types of leadership models in my research. Each model I studied had merit, but they all left me wanting more. In my case studies, I examined four successful and enduring organizations and spent days observing, interviewing and studying what they did right. What I found became the basis for the concept that I called “Leading from the Center.”

There are six key characteristics of Leading from the Center. They can be adopted, adapted, used and embraced by leaders and aspiring leaders at all levels. I called it an evolutionary approach, because I believe we are evolving in our approach to leadership. How we did business in the past does not always work today. How we do business may be as important as the business we do. These six keys can help you succeed!

Take a problem-solving approach to organizational accountability.


If you are a proponent of Leading from the Center, here is what you will do:

1. Be a leader with confidence in your own leadership and with the desire to empower, promote and develop leaders on your team.  You know who you are, and you embrace your team and their ideas. Your staff learns from you and with you, and the team becomes stronger!

2. You create a culture in your organization that values collaboration and shared decision-making. You want to hear ideas, and you are open to finding new ways to do business. You understand your role in your organization, and you break silos that stop collaboration and success.

3. Your team has clear roles and responsibilities, and understands your expectations. You communicate with clarity and continuously empower your team. 

4. You and your team are dedicated to your organization. You care about the work you do, the students you serve, your colleagues and your school district. You are passionate about helping your team and district to succeed and be the best. You want to be where you are, and you want to bring others along with you. 

5. You are willing to invest the time and attention it takes to build the leadership team, to help them develop leadership muscles and to create and sustain the work. Time and resources are great predictors of success. If you invest your time and efforts to build your team, it pays off in increased efficiencies and improved relationships.  

6. You take a problem-solving approach to organizational accountability. You do not want to catch people doing something wrong, you want to help people succeed. You bring your team together to help you address challenges and you welcome their perspectives and ideas, and value their contributions. Accountability is a group effort, and your team works together to solve problems and create protocols and procedures that serve your students. 

We learn to be leaders in three ways: by observation, by direct experience, and by intentional study and actions.

We learn to be leaders in three ways: by observation, by direct experience, and by intentional study and actions. We continually observe what is happening in our world. We watch, analyze, assess and process these observations. These observations are the basis of our learning. We add to that base by our personal experiences — how we are treated, how those in power handle their authority and how we handle our own leadership opportunities. Our experiences have a major imprint on our learning! Finally, we learn to be leaders by intentional study and action. We choose to be the kind of leader we want to be. 

And we choose and take action! We choose to be positive in a negative world. We choose to support our leaders and our organizations. We exercise our leadership by our personal example. We are open to learning, and we love to see other people grow, learn and succeed. We choose to be the kind of leader people want to follow!

Leading from the Center is not about riding at the front of your leadership parade. Leading from the Center is about enabling, encouraging and supporting others to take the lead – as you confidently walk alongside your team. 

Being a leader is a responsibility and a privilege. If you choose to Lead from the Center, your world will change. You will have more confidence in the decisions you make and in the work of your team. You will build continuity and a positive culture. People will want to work with you and for you! You will experience more meaningful relationships with your team. You will know them and see their potential. They will feel your support. You will address challenges with strength. Together, your team will solve problems and practice accountability without fear or angst. 

For me, the best part about Leading from the Center is that it has enabled me to understand and enjoy my leadership journey. I see it as a positive and powerful opportunity daily. It helps me understand my “why.” It allows me to face every challenge with a sense of purpose and power. It allows me to be a leader among leaders!

How about you? Are you ready to explore Leading from the Center?