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Holistic Leadership, Thriving Schools—to Serve the Whole Child

“Waaaaiiiiit…this is practical,” exclaim the coaches I’ve trained in using Holistic Leadership Coaching.

And, “Waaaiiitt…I use this process again and again as my goals or roles or staff change, can’t I?” say my coaches.

While the book Holistic Leadership, Thriving Schools (Solution Tree, 2019) is new, the business version, Intentional Leadership, came out in 2013.

In the last six years I’ve trained coaches from the United States, South America, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, and more, to help leaders use their strengths while avoiding the traps of their blind spots using the “12 Lenses of Leadership.”

The lenses are a bit different for school leadership, but the concepts are the same, developed to ensure that leaders are actually developing, not just being trained. McKinsey (2014) in “Why Leadership Development Programs Fail” lays out what needs to happen for leadership development programs to change how leaders lead.

Here’s how Holistic Leadership fits with their criteria:

  • Situate development in the work of the leader. Rather than neutral case studies or readings on theory, participants select a goal crucial to their strategic goals. Not general goals like “Be a better leader” or “Increase student achievement” but “Ensuring collective efficacy, that all teachers believe we can reach our goals” or “Understanding teacher needs before planning professional development” or “Understanding how and when to incorporate student voice.” These are just a few examples I’ve seen.
  • Account for context. Just because a curriculum or policy or initiative worked in one place does not mean it will work in another. Holistic Leadership involves understanding your school, your staff, your students, your community, and how your leadership style fits and doesn’t fit with your current goals and vision.
  • Tackle mindset. We all have blind spots. Holistic Leadership uses multiple lenses to help ensure yours don’t derail your goals. Emotional intelligence. Polarity thinking—frameworks for understanding that either/or thinking can create bigger problems than the ones you’re trying to solve. As you read the following list of the 12 core “lenses”, or both/and’s, of Holistic Leadership, can you think of any ongoing dilemmas these might explain? Where either/or thinking doesn’t do the job?

Leadership AND Listening

Breadth AND Depth

Community AND Individual

Reality AND Vision

Continuity AND Change

Short term AND Long term

Logic AND Values

Outcomes AND People

Power To AND Power With

Clarity AND Flexibility

Predictability AND Possibility

Goal orientation AND Engagement

  • Measure whether you are developing. SMART goals aren’t enough. They won’t work for development goals like being more empathetic or increasing student engagement. You need other measures, and they exist if you get creative.

While those are McKinsey’s four elements, I’ve added a fifth: time for reflection.

Holistic Leadership, Thriving Schools lays out a process for creating goals and for reflecting on them that ensures you remember why the goal is important in the first place and how you’ll know whether you’re staying on course.

One easy way to learn if the Holistic Leadership process will help you reach your goals is to listen to the podcast at The Principal Center.


Gurdjian, P., Halbeisen, T. & Lane, K. (2014). “Why leadership development programs fail.” McKinsey Quarterly.  Retrieved October 15, 2017 from

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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