Glass Half Full: Essential criteria for successful leadership

Ruth Glass
Special to the Bonanza

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a special retirement party in Philadelphia for Patrick Bassett, Executive Director of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Pat has steered this group of 1,700 schools, affiliated internationally, through more than a decade, including several years of considerable challenge. He has changed the face and the purpose of the NAIS office, located in Washington, D.C., as well as made far more accessible the invaluable resources of this organization.

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Pat since 1984, when both of us were involved in creating a New Teacher Institute in Virginia. The Institute continues today, with offshoots in other areas of the country, and remains one of the bodies of work of which I am most proud to have been affiliated. I know Pat to be a leader of vision and tireless energy.

At his recent celebration, Pat took a few minutes to outline what he considers to be essential criteria for successful leadership. His concepts apply to any organization.

No. 1: Hire good people and treat them with respect and encouragement. Be generous with legitimate praise as well as considered guidance.

No. 2: Ensure that your team includes people whose talents balance/counter balance your own. If you are a Big Picture person who has trouble focusing on detail, make sure that someone high level is responsible for the bits and pieces.

No. 3: Hire people who complement, rather than compliment, you. These two need not be mutually exclusive, but the latter, without the former, can expand one’s head to a totally disproportionate size.

No. 4: Make sure that you have somebody around who will keep you grounded. This person may be a spouse or partner, not necessarily an employee, but we all need trusted people who will tell us The Truth when we need it – sometimes when it’s most difficult to do so.

No. 5: Finally, it’s easier to lead and be successful if you are likable. Which is not to say that every decision you make has to be — or will be — popular. Social skills, however, are just that, and all of us prefer to spend time and expend energy for those who are easy to like.

As Pat put it, the mistakes of likable folks are far more readily forgiven than are those of the grumps. Likable people are generally more readily able to acknowledge their accountability in making poor choices, which is all a part of that moving along process.

During a recent faculty meeting at Lake Tahoe School, the question arose of how we help children with social difficulties learn to be likable. I have no easy answer to that question.

What I believe strongly, however, is that children model the behavior they witness in the adults closest to them. The cheeriest kiddos I welcome to school each morning are those whose parents send them on their way with warm and lighthearted wishes for the day. We can all be leaders in that respect.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at

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