• Rajah E. Smart, Ed.D.

Leadership is a Mindset, Not Just a Title

I’ve spent a long time in education, and it’s taking its toll. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it simply means what used to be important no longer is important. Meaning I no longer believe I have something to prove or lay in bed at night anxious about doing s project. Why? Because I know by this time, I will do it to the best of my ability, which is 99% of the time. My mentor calls this approaching twilight. I am in no rush to prove myself in situations that warrant no need to do so because my experience and credentials do that for me, especially if placed in a position where there is no fuse being lit by leadership or lack thereof.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in leadership and still shock myself at some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish, inspire, improve, or accelerate. Beyond a doubt, none of this could have been done without the staff, space, and stuff to achieve. I appreciate good, hard-working staff that desire to learn and provide ideas. It’s their thirst for improvement or finding the skill in them that they don’t see yet. My role has been to ask questions and help those I was responsible for enhancing their approach. This is an example of leading with the transformational mindset versus being in a leadership position and expecting people to respect you.


I can recall just tapping into my skills and being led by insecure, anxious, and irrelevant leadership. Irrelevant leadership exists when a person operates on personal feelings versus the function of the role. Ensuring hitting check boxes doesn’t make you a leader. It makes you irrelevant because the staff cannot approach you with substantial ideas. The one component that indicates irrelevant leadership is stopping the voice of staff. If staff can represent an idea better, let them. It allows for confidence to develop and grow and the ability to learn from the staff as a leader. Shutting down staff voices, arguing with, or yelling at staff due to fear or insecurity indicates weak leadership. It means there are no agreed-upon communication standards established between staff and leadership. Unconsciously, this leader will become a micromanager because they lack the ability to approach an issue systematically and rationally versus emotionally. Years ago, I could not function in this environment. Today, I can function and do my job because that irrelevant leadership is what it indicates--irrelevant.


A leadership title is fine if bestowed upon a person because it’s earned. Earned can be just as subjective as success. I've learned that degrees don't determine earning or success. Actions and experience are the measurements. You can talk good all day and utilize smoke and mirrors, but people watch your actions. In this space, staff realize your leadership style and decide whether to trust you. My doctoral chair once told me, “Just because you have a doctorate doesn’t mean you have done a thing. It’s the quality of work you put into it that will determine the worth of your doctorate. Those letters mean nothing without the work, so I will push you hard.” Man...did she ever, and the experience transformed me as I absorbed new knowledge and assimilated with previously obtained knowledge. Go Blue! Thus, the title means nothing without the work needed to improve. Leadership is the same.


When I took my first position, I read the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The book inspired me to:

  • Say less and listen more;

  • Understand the mode of staff and allow their personalities in the work;

  • Water ideas but also push staff to think through all possibilities;

  • Respect the reciprocal nature of the conversation;

  • Avoid always seeking a “gotcha” moment;

  • Realize the product is more important than always following irrelevant steps that sometimes block inspiration;

  • Being the catalyst to seek continuous improvement;

  • Provide an authentically transparent environment; and

  • Leave feelings at the door, as each decision is collective, not personal.

Even now, I am constantly learning new ways to lead myself versus staff. I’ve learned that not everyone will like you, and that’s okay because it’s typically about their insecurity versus something I’ve done. It’s like someone disliking you because of your skin color. Subjective. I don’t care because none of them are sitting at my table at night. The goal is to support the goals and objectives of the organization and seek to improve those and the staff that function in the various roles. In leadership, there is conflict. If you choose to avoid conflict or are the one consistently causing the conflict, leadership is not for you. The goal is to better yourself and learn how to become a leader that leads versus remaining stagnant.


I’ve asked staff that has worked for me if I met their needs as a leader. The answers have been enlightening. The common thread has always been transparency and support to improve themselves. I’ll take that--

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