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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Key Dispositions

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #111

Dr. Christine Dixon and I developed a Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership course for Pennsylvania Leadership Development Center titled Leading District-Wide Continuous Improvement. The course is based on a document Dr. Dixon co-authored for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Transforming Educational Systems Toward Continuous Improvement. Although the paper and course are directed toward school leaders, the research and propositions can be applied to any organization. Readers who work in other organizations will find the following information of interest. Read on and apply the "Key Dispositions" to your situation.

The primary focus of this paper is just one module of the course – Key Dispositions. Leaders must demonstrate five key dispositions to develop a continuous improvement culture in their organization successfully. Consistently thinking and behaving in ways aligned with these key dispositions will create an organization driven by the desire to improve continually. Not only do leaders need to embrace and model these characteristics, but they must be able to foster the same improvement dispositions in the organization.

  1. Growth Mindset

  2. Curiosity, Humility, and Vulnerability

  3. Welcoming Uncertainty

  4. Scientific Reasoning

  5. Systems Thinking

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is a philosophy that individuals or groups can improve themselves and their work with enough dedication and effort. Leaders need to believe that, with the correct resources and assistance, everyone in their organization has the potential to increase their capacity and help the organization succeed. Transformation leaders must be engaged, show appreciation, and foster development among everyone if they want a successful outcome.

Curiosity, Humility, and Vulnerability

To lead transformational change, leaders must demonstrate qualities of curiosity, humility, and vulnerability. Curious leaders are eager to understand how and why things work and consider all angles before making a decision. Leaders who humbly recognize that their knowledge is not complete and that there is always more to learn are open to the idea of being wrong in their approach. Vulnerable leaders don't shy away from risk or fear failure; instead, they embrace the possibility of learning in public. A leader with these traits will cultivate an organization that actively strives for growth.

Welcoming Uncertainty

Continuous improvement leaders understand that there will always be some degree of uncertainty and ambiguity in pursuing their mission. They are constantly searching for productive change, recognizing that they don't have all the answers and must take a collaborative approach to learning. While they know that their organization needs to prioritize continuous learning, they also accept that it will only be achieved by getting comfortable with uncertainty and realizing that knowledge is gained through trial and error. By embracing uncertainty, they can adapt to changing situations and make progress toward success.

Scientific Reasoning

Scientific reasoning encourages individuals to be mindful of facts and data, focused on working collaboratively to test theories and build shared knowledge, and committed to using logical causal reasoning to explore the connections between a cause and its effects. It is concerned with discovering knowledge that transcends the authors of it. Leaders who think scientifically and base their decisions on research aim to understand existing knowledge in their field and search for evidence rooted in data and real-world situations. Questioning their beliefs is second nature; they persistently ask themselves and others, "How do we know?"

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking entails being able to view a situation from the angle of the whole and simultaneously analyzing how its distinct components interact with one another. To improve things through systems thinking, you must be able to pinpoint issues in their contexts and divide activities into smaller chunks for assessment and betterment. At the same time, it is important to remember that with complicated systems, you can't predict what will happen due to intervening factors—so being aware of potential unintended outcomes is essential.

Those responsible for leading continuous improvement recognize the organization or district as one system. They are conscious of their role in doing something positive for all aspects of the organization instead of just one section. Knowing how all levels and departments are linked causes them to reject individual initiatives. Systems thinking encourages leaders to establish an organized structure that serves the mission and development goals of the organization. This guarantees that activities and processes across various levels are combined to reach the desired result.

Questions to Ponder

  • What conditions are either conducive or adverse to you adopting a growth mindset?

  • When is your motivation driven by curiosity and yearning to learn over fear?

  • How do you apply scientific reasoning to your professional life? What possibilities can you explore for doing this more often?

  • When making decisions, how aware are you of the potential ramifications on the system as well as particular children and staff members within it?

Every leader should be aware of their professional dispositions, encompassing their values, ethical principles, and commitments. These key dispositions shape how they interact with others and lead.

If you would like to learn more about leading continuous improvement, you can see a course description on the Pennsylvania Leadership Development Center,, or contact me directly at


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