Innovative Leadership Oct. 26, 2018

Unpacking Missouri's Leadership Development System (MLDS)

Big picture

The Next in the MLDS Series...Innovative Leadership by Dr. Jim Masters

From the MLDS description of Innovative Leadership, the components are simple enough.

  • Intentionally pursues continuous professional growth
  • Actively engages in reflective practice
  • Applies new knowledge and understanding to drive appropriate change

Professional growth? Yes. Reflective practice? Of course. How often have we asked, “How did that happen?” And then that one word that strikes fear in the hearts of practitioners everywhere


Effective leaders recognize the need for change, understand its implications, and refuse to resort to the “You first” model of innovation. For many leaders, the role of willpower is clearly evident in their path to attaining a leadership position. Unfortunately, overreliance on that personal strength can become irrelevant as one’s capacity to elicit change now rests largely on the ability to influence others, or more practically put, break away from habits of practice and embrace different ways of doing and being.

Navigating change successfully requires a steady hand, thoughtful action, and a deep understanding of the aspects that are in play. Frequently, change is a matter of shaping values, beliefs, and attitudes. No small order if you consider the hidebound nature of many of education’s most closely held practices and traditions.

Change is difficult. Not an earthshattering statement, but understanding why that is the case can help leaders shepherd their faculty, staff, and community through the fears, frustrations, and challenges of treading unfamiliar ground. Innovation can be a draining process. Maintaining the energy to move forward requires a specific sense of dissatisfaction, a clear vision to provide direction when things get dark, and enough early wins to keep everyone motivated to take the next step. Failure to infuse these aspects into the process tempts resistance, or worse, incites sabotage.

Moving from the comfort of what is known and taking the risk to achieve something better will invite dips in confidence that can and often do result in negative performance outcomes. In Leading in a Culture of Change (2007), Michael Fullan notes, “All successful schools experience implementation dips as they move forward.” Small comfort when confidence wanes and the lack of technical know-how causes practitioners to question what they are doing, but an absolutely necessary part of the process.

It is in those moments that effective, innovative leaders recognize the importance of effort, that combination of aptitude and persistence that insights people to move forward, and are able to raise the expectation of success. Not as a cheerleader, but as a partner in practice assuring their team that they have been here before, to trust their skill, and move toward success. In a sense, teaching their team to value discomfort and anticipate better.

Finally, forward-thinking leaders also grasp the importance of letting go. For many initiatives, there comes a time to simply move on. Seldom does it require denial of past efforts, but it does speak to the importance of a deft hand when planting, turns to weeding, pruning, and ultimately abandonment of ineffective programs or practices that have become more habit than innovation.

Skillfully navigating change and moving an organization steadily forward is not an activity for the faint of heart. Cultivating your capacity to serve as innovative leaders is as close as your nearest RPDC leadership development specialist. As educators, we quickly learn that outright solutions are rare, but the ability to apply what we have learned can make a tremendous difference in the lives of the faculty, staff, and students we serve.

Please accept this as an invitation to elevate your leadership practice by contacting the leadership development specialist at your regional professional development center.