By Suzanne Marrs
Principal, Consolidated Elementary, Vigo County School Corporation
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ed. Leadership, Indiana State University
Think back to different events in your life when the aspect of follow-though has been critical to success. We can all recall those dreaded group projects where we hoped our partners would pull through on their parts of the assignments or even those sporting events where someone’s follow-through on a last-second shot was critical to the win. “The will” for success, thus, cannot stand alone; it needs a “page 2,” it seems.
Follow-through is critically important in educational leadership, as any well-oiled school requires leaders working continually to nurture the intangibles that foster complementary relationships. Smith (1997) stated, “Central to any discussion of leaders and followers is trust. This aspect may be the most significant and meaningful in the relationship. For trust to occur, the followers, to be followers, have some abiding faith that leaders will direct actions toward mutually beneficial gains and those will occur in an atmosphere where faith by the follower is sufficient (as opposed to countervailing pressures, measures of probability, or trade offs” (p. 2). Faith wanes when balls are dropped; trust suffers when school leaders do not follow through.
That said, how is it that leaders can be everything for everyone? How can they follow-through with the hundreds of assurances they make each day? The permutations alone are daunting. Leaders have much on their plates … with those plates spinning atop sticks, it seems. With myriad variables vying for their attention, leaders must find reasonable levels of closure on “most things present” before addressing “many things next.”
Our best leaders understand that this level of expected responsiveness is directly proportional to their perceived leadership value. Even with things of lesser import. Leaders do not have the luxury of being evaluated based on the more pressing, yet oftentimes invisible items demanding their attention (that by their seriousness, must often for the betterment of all, go unseen). The actual importance of these items to a leader’s defined success is often perceptually irrelevant. Follow-through on minutia, however … IS.
Never to be neglected, of course, is a school leader’s follow-through when dealing with parents on the subject of their children. Imagine the angst of a parent, awaiting eagerly the telephone call regarding concerns on their minds. We can all attest to the feeling of waiting for results from a test or an important call regarding family or loved ones. Leadership that is cognizant of these emotional attachments and offers continual responsiveness, that which is best manifested through (What else?) … “follow-through.” As a practical note -- Returning all telephone calls by the end of any given day is key in building better partnerships; it is great content for what would make a good book, “Follow-through for Dummies.”
No matter the mission, size, or structure of the organization, a leader’s responsibility for follow-through is a deciding factor in one’s successful tenure at the top. Overall it can be said that follow-through involves, first and foremost, an “I’m OK/You’re OK” perspective of valuing those who depend upon us while bringing closure to their concerns from their own perceptions of satisfaction. Effective, timely, and personalized follow-through allows leaders and staffs to build upon foundations of reciprocal trust that promote and strengthen everyone’s “level best” in caretaking.
Without follow-through, we would argue that nothing of importance in school leadership is accomplished sustainably.
Smith, R (1997). Defining Leadership through Followership: Concepts for Approaching Leadership Development. Chicago, IL: Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association
Suzanne Marrs is beginning her doctoral studies at Indiana State University and contributes to the ISU Ed. Leadershop with practical approaches in improving education as a K-12 leader. We’re quite fortunate to have Suzanne Marrs on the Leadershop Team. Please feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ryan Donlan at email@example.com.