As society evolves, education is always needed to transform to help students prepare for the workforce. Equally so, this evolution creates demand for leaders to respond and empower people on their teams to make a bigger impact. The type of leadership required today looks different than it did a decade ago. This is becoming more evident as we’ve watched CEOs from major companies such as Amazon, Intel, Nike, Ford, Walgreens, AT&T and even the Walt Disney Company, all resign in 2019 and 2020. Today, employees want to work for bold leaders who are courageous and willing to take risks to achieve brilliant results.

The dictionary defines the adjective bold as:

  1. Not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff.
  2. Necessitating courage and daring.
  3. Beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action.

To thrive through the transformations ahead will require leaders to have courage, guide people and think beyond the status quo. Remember, we choose to be leaders. Consequently, this means we hold ourselves accountable for coaching people to maximize their potential. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins writes, “The factors that determine whether or not a company becomes truly great, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, lie largely within the hands of its people. It is not a matter of what happens to them but a matter of what they create, what they do and how well they do it.”

Education is calling for bold leadership to guide institutions to meet students where they are and prepare them for the skills they will need in the future.


As we interviewed bold leaders including Dr. Natalie Harder and Dr. Brennan Kelly, several characteristics emerged. Bold leaders are:

  • Positive in the face of change.
  • Proactive and avoid flying under the radar.
  • Curious to ask questions and use their imagination.
  • Inspiring hope and collaboration with others.
  • Confident and willing to be uncomfortable.
  • Perceptive about people’s needs and practice self-awareness.
  • Trustworthy and have integrity.
  • Able to multitask and prioritize the most impactful work.


Beyond the characteristics of bold leadership, let’s discuss what it can look like in action. These characteristics come together to inspire the following behaviors.


During podcast episode 71: Be Bold About Action, Quint Studer explains what helped bold leaders throughout history guide teams through challenges. These leaders all had several things in common. When communicating to people, the message was, ‘we are going to get through this together.’ They faced the downside; however, the focus was on ‘here is what we can do next.’

Quint also shared a framework for effective leader communication:

  1. Start with why your audience is here. Why is the message being said? What are you trying to accomplish? Begin with the end in mind.
  2. Next, give a quick environmental assessment. What factors are influencing the need for a message?
  3. If you’ve made a mistake, be vulnerable. Admit your mistakes and explain why – include your anxiety and feelings. It’s okay to admit mistakes.
  4. Talk about how people can help. What are the priorities? Next steps?
  5. Communicate using multiple formats – writing, visual and audio.
  6. It’s better to overcommunicate than under-communicate. No one will ever say they get the perfect amount of communication either way.

“Be okay being unpolished. I think sometimes executives worry about how good of a communicator they are. Somebody can say this better than me. I think the number one thing a leader can have is authenticity. I think executives sometimes are too polished.”

– Quint Studer


Bold leaders avoid waiting for the perfect solution. There is no analysis paralysis. We decide quickly and act boldly. People with a commitment to excellence are never satisfied with the status quo and seek to continuously improve. Unlike absentee leaders who try to fly under the radar, bold leaders are willing to stand out and endure even in the face of failure.


Undoubtedly, change makes many people uncomfortable. Change can cause anxiety and distractions in the workplace. In times of change or extended uncertainty, bold leaders effectively manage change with transparency. This requires we set a clear vision aligned with the next steps and direction for our teams. Our success as leaders depends on our ability to role model confidence and guide people in the right direction.


As the Jim Collins quote above describes, the power to become a truly great education organization lies within our ability to develop people. Bold leaders understand people are our greatest assets and work to help others grow and develop new skills. When we increase the abilities and capacities of the people on our teams, we create a larger impact for those we serve.

Try this tip for executive leaders: Spend 80 percent of your time focused on ensuring your direct reports spend 80 percent of their time on coaching people to do what they do very well.In her podcast episode, 3 Changes to the Major Role of Leadership, Dr. Janet Pilcher encourages leaders to coach people to work across boundaries in our organization to increase agility. The bold leaders we know focus on teams over hierarchies and building the skills of high and solid performers to collaborate for better outcomes. At times, this even requires we make tough decisions, such as removing low performers and shifting people’s job duties. These are must-dos for bold leaders who want to accelerate the performance of the organization.


People want to feel good about the impact they are making and acknowledged for their achievements. For this reason, bold leaders make a point to recognize others often. Recognition keeps people motivated. In addition to recognizing a job well done, bold leaders seek to give people new responsibilities as a reward. Additional opportunities enable strong and high performers to accelerate their performance further and therefore feed the recognition cycle. The more we recognize what right looks like, the more we can improve the performance and capacity of people.


Learning occurs when we leave our comfort zones, have new experiences and even after we’ve failed to accomplish something. Bold leaders aren’t satisfied with the leader they are today – they strive to continuously learn, improve and develop their own skills. To lead our teams boldly into the future, we recommend another tip from Quint Studer: choose character over comfort. Embrace the feelings of discomfort to do what is right. Bold leaders are willing to reflect, take ownership and improve for the sake of the team.


It is almost time for our 10th annual leadership conference, What’s Right in Education. This fall, bold leaders from across the country will connect and celebrate their success and the knowledge they’ve learned along the way. District leaders and teams will share how they are deeply engaged in building improvement cycles into the classroom and supporting all students in reaching their potential. We hope you will join us to learn key strategies in shifting culture, improving practice and unleashing the bold leader that lives inside of you.

Learn more about WRIE 2021 and register >> 

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