My inspiration for this idea is owed to Dave Burgess from his book Teach like a PIRATE (Burges, 2012) His Twitter chats (#tlap), and his visit to my district to deliver his “Teach Like a PIRATE” message did this idea to come to me. Even my theme for my district that year was “TLAP” (Teach Like a Pirate)! This article and my book Pirate On! — Lead fearlessly, Ignite passion, Inspire trust in your crew & Emerge as a leader of significance uses the acronym PIRATES for the attributes of a leader of significance.

Passion is one attribute that a leader must build a foundation upon. If you do not have a passion for leading, you will experience misery and will probably not last, much less succeed and inspire. I believe passion may be the most important asset for leaders. Passion defines us and needs to be continually nurtured to keep it alive. Leading is not our job, it is our passion. Getting better at it — that is our job.

Perseverance is usually used in a negative sense when the one has to go through trials and tribulations. However, if you look in the dictionary you will find synonyms like doggedness, steadfastness, persistence, and tenacity. Interestingly in 2016, Angela Duckworth published Grit – The power of Passion and Perseverance. (Duckworth, 2017) Mine is based on experience and reading books and scripture: hers based on clinical research. I believe that perseverance is critical in leading and teaching. You are going to have issues, problems and hurdles to clear. You will work with challenging peers and bosses. If you are able to persevere through these tough times and exhibit professionalism while staying true to your vision or goals, will get you through them and maintain your sanity.

During my presentation on leadership, I show a person diving into the water to see what the ocean is all about. You have to get below the surface or immerse yourself in the sea before you can learn about the ocean. There are four different kinds of leaders. (1) those who are in the boat looking out at the waters; (2) those who are skiing that are closer to the waters and very active; (3) those who put on the snorkeling gear and swim along the surface to see underneath the surface of the water; and (4) finally those who are scuba diving and able to experience the wonders of the seas. Immersing yourself allows people to know that even when you are doing what you think is doing the right thing, you can “miss” or make a mistake. But if you have the right reason for your decision (and if you have practiced immersion), the backlash for a mistake (or perceived mistake) often is not as strong because your followers know you and know your heart is in the right place. Do the right thing for the right reason.

Without a doubt, integrity should be a cornerstone of any leader. Without integrity your followers will not trust you. Without trust, you cannot influence. Influence is what leadership is all about. If you cannot influence, there is no way you can carry out your vision for your organization. I debated between integrity and influence for my other “I” chapter. I finally decided on integrity for the above reason. And, I included influence in the same chapter. Integrity takes time to build but only a moment to lose. However, that manifestation is a result of many choices or decisions over time. I included the lyrics to the song “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns in my book that describe this process very poignantly.

As Tom Peters says in his book , In Search of Excellence (Peters & Waterman, 1982) “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.”

Dave Burgess uses rapport, I use relationships. You can probably use these interchangeably, but I like relationships.  In virtually every Twitter chat I participate, relationships emerges as an important part of one of if not many questions imposed. We all know what a positive relationship is and what is not appropriate so I will not go into that.  Neuroscience says that this may be the most important factor in creating a positive learning environment. Building and creating positive relationships takes work, but in the end it will pay huge dividends. If I could only choose one attribute to focus on, this – building positive relationships-  would be the one! Each faculty and staff member needs to know that they matter.

Never stop asking questions. Analyze every area of your organization. Always look to where you can improve staff, facilities, and performance. I encourage you to analyze your mistakes, as you can sometimes improve more by that kind of analysis than any other you choose to examine. It is through questioning and analyzing that inventions are created, greatness appears, ideas are turned into realities, and plan evolves to awesome. From books I have researched and my experience as a professional athlete and school superintendent cite that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice, analysis, work, and sacrifice to move from average or very good to elite performance, no matter if you are a musician, athlete, or leader. (Coyle, 2009)

No matter where we are, we are under someone’s authority. There must be someone in charge. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32 president of the United States, coined the phrase “the buck stops here.” Ultimately the leader has to make the tough decisions, make the staff accountable, and map the vision of the organization. I use the meme with a lion that shows scratches and scars and says, “Everyone wants to be the beast, until it’s time to do what real beasts do.” The leader posses the power in the campus or district. However, I have found that when you use power you begin to lose power.  You may not lose the power of the position, but you lose the power to influence. The “king of the jungle”, the lion, uses his roar to protect, provide, partner and lead to declare his dominion. He uses his roar in each of those instances. I read this about the lion in Kingdom Man by Tony Evans. (Evans, 2012) Sometimes the leader has to be “the beast.” As Peter Drucker says “Every decision is like surgery. It is an intervention into the system and therefore carries the risk of shock.” (, 2018)

Trust is a cornerstone of leadership. As I touched on trust in the Integrity chapter, I want to stress how important this attribute is. I will even go so far as to say that trust involves likeability. The leader/teacher needs to be liked by her/his students or staff members. Because if people do not like the leader, they probably will not trust him/her. Trust is a significant factor in the classroom as well as the campus or district. In each case, if the student/follower doesn’t trust the leader, he/she will not be able to teach/influence. This is why building relationships are so meaningful, so faculty and staff will gain that trust. It is challenging to address trust without relationships. These two are intertwined. If there is one thing I learned while serving for 30 years in education is that if you love your students, your parents will trust you. Stephen Covey says “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” (Covey, 1989) If the leader has a climate of trust (beginning with building relationships), he/she can influence, initiate change, and carry out the vision of the campus or district. When faculty and staff know that the leader cares for them, they will “run through walls” for him/her.

We recently elected the 45th president of the United States. The saddest part of this election was that each candidate had a trust factor under 40% said a Gallup poll taken during the campaign (, 2017) Mr. Trump has a long way to go to gain the trust of the majority of the American people.

Leaders are not hired to keep the status quo. Every time I was hired, it was to make an improvement, change the culture, or for my last job, to create a high school. The late legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, said, “Make every day a Masterpiece!” Transformation is all about change. The brain continually looks for patterns. As a result, when a change takes place, the brain has to adjust to something that breaks the pattern and searches for something familiar.  The brain looks for something familiar and comfortable. It has a bias to things that are ingrained, so anytime you attempt to transform, begin with something familiar. When you took a new leadership position, culture changed simply because you are different from the leader that preceded you. You should take some time to notice each day what your organization feels, looks, and communicates. That is your culture. I think a formula for culture is what you create + what you tolerate = culture. What have you created? What do you tolerate?

I decided to use empowerment in addition to enthusiasm. It is not about possessing or using power but adding power to others. I like to say to empower your faculty is giving them the freedom to fail. You may be saying “Wait! What?!” You see if your followers have that kind of freedom. That is a part of “Growth Mindset” that Carol Dweck writes about in her book Mindset (Dweck, 2006) If leaders give their faculty freedom to fail and then provide feedback, can you imagine what can be accomplished. I had a difficult time choosing empowerment over edify and emotion. It is so vital to edify the faculty and staff at every opportunity. People often select recognition of a job well done or even the effort at what they are doing over gifts or money. Don’t get me wrong here, everyone appreciates a bonus or raise, but the education profession is different from the corporate world in this area. Leaders should use faculty meetings, handwritten notes (a dying practice) and private conversations to edify their followers. Another Gallup poll reported in “US News & World Report” April 9, 2014, read 7 out of 10 teachers are not engaged  and …” feel that their supervisors do not care about them as a person.” (US News, 2014) If you don’t care, you surely cannot empower. George Couros says, “As leaders in education our job is not to control those we serve but unleash their talent. (Couros, 2015)

Emotion plays a huge part in connecting and leading. Neuroscience supports that emotion is the gateway to learning. Capture their emotion then you capture their brain. One of the best ways to capture emotion is through storytelling. Use your experiences and your story to engage those under your leadership. Once they are engaged with your message, then a leader can lead effectively. Folowers will find something or someone to engage (their cell phone, the weather, their friends), make sure it is leader’s message. “Emotions moves people to attention, , and motivation” (Dickmann, Stanford-Blair, & Rosati-Bojar, 2004)

Dave Burgess stopped at the letter ‘E.’ I chose to add ’S’ for service and significance.

Striving to perform as a servant-leader should be every leader’s goal. It is through service that true joy is achieved. As I wrote this, I finished viewing a Youtube video of the entire Ore City High School (faculty & students) in Ore City, Texas performing acts of service in their community. (“YouTube”, 2018) I encourage you to watch. It will warm your heart. One of my charges from my board, when I was superintendent, was to create a high school. We were a small PreK-8 district, and the community wanted a high school so that our students could stay in our district and not have to travel far to attend a high school and finish their public education. In addition to the state-mandated credits required to graduate, I added 50 hours of community service as a local requirement.  I wanted our students to experience serving before that could graduate. One of my first Twitter friends Krystal Floyd sent me an email to include in my book on service, “My passion in education is to inspire others to greatness by serving them.” I do not think I can say it any better.

When we move from greatness to a leader of significance we must answer these questions from those that follow you from John Maxwell: Do you like me? Can you help me? Can I trust you? Will you add value to my life? If you can answer each of those in the affirmative, you will emerge as a leader of significance. What leaders have to realize is that everything worthwhile is uphill. Selfishness and significance are opposites. Leaders must value their people and understand that everything rises and falls on leadership. A leader must strive to enhance the lives of the people they lead.

About The Author:

Hal Roberts is a retired superintendent after serving for 38 years. Hal served as a 4th – 12th grade teacher, coach and Athletic Director, Elementary Principal, High School Princiapla, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent. He wrote a book on leadership entitled Pirate On! Lead fearlessly, Ignite passion, Inspire trust in your crew, & Emerge as a leader of Significance. He now conducts professional development on educational neuroscience and leadership.

References cited :

  1. Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate. San Diego, Calif.: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
  2. Couros, G. (n.d.). The innovator’s mindset.
  3. Covey, S. (n.d.). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Snapshots Edition.
  4. Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code. New York: Bantam Books.
  5. Dickmann, M., Stanford-Blair, N. and Rosati-Bojar, A. (2004). Leading with the brain in mind. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
  6. Duckworth, A. (2017). Grit. [Place of publication not identified]: Vermilion.
  7. Dweck, C. (n.d.). Mindset.
  8. Evans, T. (n.d.). Kingdom man.
  9. Peters, T. and Waterman, R. (1982). In search of excellence. New York: Harper & Row.
  10. com. (2018). YouTube. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2018].
  11. com (2018) Inc. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 July 2018].
  12. US News & World Report (2014) [Online] Available at: [Accessed 18 July 2018]


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