Outward Focused Leadership

Steven WeberBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better, Reflect Better


  • It is common for educators in newly appointed leadership roles to share more about them than learn about the people they serve. They typically have an “Inward Focus.”
  • As classroom teachers, the beginning of the school year tends to focus on students. They typically have an “Outward Focus.”
  • Educators transitioning from teaching to administration should apply the same leadership skills. Move from an “Inward Focus” to an “Outward Focus” based on the needs, goals, outcomes, barriers, and concerns of all of your stakeholders.
  • Read below the six ways administrators can apply an “Outward Focus.”

When an educator begins a new role as an administrator, there is a desire to prove their worth.

Too often, administrators spend more time announcing what they will bring to the table, rather than asking questions and focusing on the needs of staff.  A new principal may attempt to show how much they know in the back-to-school faculty meeting.  A first year superintendent may share from their dissertation, quote recent publications, or focus on their first 30 day goals.  This desire to be respected and add value to others is human nature.  When an administrator does not connect with educators and stakeholders, it is because of an “Inward Focus,” or a focus on my goals rather than the needs of those I serve.

As we begin a new school year, classroom teachers are adept at creating classrooms that embrace all students.  Back-to-school includes team-building games, learning students’ names, discovering student interests, and building a classroom community.  There is an intentional focus on the learner, while investing in students and building relationships. 

It would be wise for administrators to create meetings and agendas that focus on the staff and stakeholders.  It would be easy for teachers to begin with reading, math, and science on the first day of school, but years of experience have highlighted the need for teachers to build a bridge with their students before asking students to follow them across the bridge.

Years of experience have highlighted the need for teachers to build a bridge with their students before asking students to follow them across the bridge. Click To Tweet

When educators transition from teaching to administration, they should apply the same leadership skills as teachers.

The teachers in the faculty meeting are not your audience.  The people are more important than the PowerPoint.  Well intentioned leaders put several hours into planning for the opening week of school. Yet when they deliver their message, it feels like they want to change or fix people, rather than build a community of leaders or a learning organization.  “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is only taking a walk” (Maxwell, 2012).  An “Inward Focus” is based on my needs, goals, outcomes, message, presentation, or professional development.  An “Outward Focus” is based on the needs, goals, outcomes, barriers, and concerns of students, staff, families, and stakeholders.

Outward Focused Leadership: Six Ways Administrators Can Apply An “Outward Focus”

Needs Analysis

What are the needs of the staff I serve?


How can I help staff members achieve their goals?


Ask staff:

  • What are we aiming for?
  • What support do you need in order to reach the outcome?
  • Which barriers exist?
  • What is your next step?
  • How can we celebrate small wins?    
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How can I support you in amplifying your message?


Is my message more important than connecting with the people I serve?

Professional Development

Is the purpose of this professional development to help others grow or am I just trying to show how much I know?

Outward Focused Leadership

An “Outward Focused” Leader approaches each day with a commitment to serving.  A derailing behavior of an “Inward Focused” Leader is that they want others to follow their lead, listen to the leader’s perspective, and change how staff operates.  Inward Focused Leaders may have good intentions, but they will not have many followers.  When leaders wake up in the morning, they often focus on their daily agenda (meetings, presentations, school visits, and review notes). 

An “Outward Focused” Leader reviews the daily agenda, but also begins each day by asking:

  1.  Am I focused on my agenda or people?
  2.  Will I be present and listen to the needs of others?
  3.  How can I create a positive moment for those I serve?

Outward Focused Leadership involves serving, listening, planning, reflecting, and leading.  A daily agenda may help a leader stay focused.  However, when we become more focused on our agenda than on students, staff, and stakeholders, we are simply checking a list.  Outward Focused Leaders don’t abandon those they serve.

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.