Intention to Impact Leadership

Kim Cullen, M.A., M.S., B.A. Upper School Director, The American School of Madrid.

A manifesto for new and aspiring leaders.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying “Well done is better than well said”.  At the American School of Madrid, one of our school-wide goals this year has been to determine what concrete steps each of us can take to transform words into action.  There is a considerable difference between intention and impact. Most of the time, our intentions are honorable. We are a community of caring, generous people:  we mean well.  It takes more than meaning well, however, and we sometimes shield ourselves behind intention when things didn’t go completely as we had hoped. “I didn’t mean it that way” or “It was just a joke” is something I often hear students and teachers say. 


In leadership, we must recognize that intention is a powerful motivator, and we need to help our community members think more specifically about impact.  This means we need to walk the walk and talk the talk.  We must ask ourselves What is the impact my words will have?  What is the impact I want to have? Related to this are questions like  What do I want to be known for, remembered for? What legacy do I want to leave?   As a school administrator, my daily challenge is to move from the what to the how.   It is in the how that I will define the impact I have on others.  


As I reflect on the leadership lessons I have learned over my twenty-three years in education, below are some of my personal highlights – a manifesto, if you will, on how to transform my own best intentions to real impact.  For new and aspiring leaders, developing one’s own manifesto for intention to impact leadership can be a powerful way to define the role one wants to play in the lives and growth of the communities one serves.  

Be committed to growth. 

Every experience in life is an opportunity to learn and grow.  One actually CAN teach old dogs new tricks.  Just because someone might refuse to change doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t.  Commit to learning new things, seeking out new challenges, and helping others do the same.  Learn to learn. 

Fear is healthy.   

Fear means we care, we want to do well.  But we fear fear, and we stay in our comfort zones, thus limiting our opportunities for growth.  Rather than perceiving fear as a force of evil, learn to embrace fear as a driving force for doing your best.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.  

Be authentic.  And be vulnerable. 

There is no magic leadership formula – be true to yourself.  Identify your strengths and don’t be afraid to leverage them.  Also, be honest about your shortcomings and commit to working on them.  Knowing yourself and allowing for both authenticity and vulnerability are fundamental so successful leadership.   

Be compassionate.  

Everyone has a story – a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, and history that defines who they are.    Don’t be quick to draw conclusions about others, and remember that understanding people’s context is critical in building strong, trusting relationships.  It is important to note that compassion is different from empathy.  Empathy is the intellectual awareness and appreciation of someone’s circumstances.  Compassion takes it a step further and involves a desire to make a difference.  In short, compassion is caring. 

Everything is a gift, even if you worked hard for it.  

If your baseline is that everything in life is a gift, even if you worked hard for it, you will be less inclined to hold onto that sense of entitlement that sometimes creeps in despite our best intentions.  Gratitude means you will be less likely to get upset when things don’t go the way you planned or expected.  Gratitude gives you the ability to give situations only the attention they deserve.  It also gives you the ability to move on when it’s time.   

Balance your approach. 

Know the difference between reacting and responding and which one is most appropriate under what circumstances.  Reaction is quick, usually involves emotion, is often uninformed and sometimes misguided.  Response takes time and requires thoughtfulness, getting to the bottom of something, considering all the options and all sides.  Find your balance between instinct, insight, and improvisation. 

Act in accordance with YOU. 

Live into your values with confidence and integrity.  Identify your beliefs and wear them on your sleeve.  Don’t sacrifice your values.  Boundaries are important; learn how to set them.  Know when to say no.  Integrity leads to reliability and trust. 

Lean on others.   

No one succeeds alone, no one knows everything, no one can do everything. Lean on others.  Seek out allies.   Find a thought partner.  Listen more than you speak.  Offer help along the way.  Be someone’s mentor.    

Celebrate others. 

Recognize the contributions of others as much as you can.  Everyone needs and deserves validation.  No one can work at their best when they feel unsupported, underutilized, unappreciated or underpaid.  Celebration is fundamental to emotional and professional well-being and, ultimately, growth.  


Kim is a thoughtful and committed educator with twenty three years of experience in international education. As a American citizen born in Brazil and raised in Texas and Spain, Kim is an adult TCK (*third culture kid) who understands the unique benefits and opportunities that come from having cross-cultural experiences during the developmental years. Kim cares deeply about young people and how they learn and she has devoted her entire professional career to fostering supportive, impactful and relevant learning for both students and educators. Having served school communities in a variety of capacities, Kim’s professional profile is comprehensive with experiences in visioning, strategic planning, relationships, team-building and compassionate leadership.

Along her journey in education — from behind the scenes in fundraising and community relations, through teaching and counseling, and almost a decade in leadership laying the groundwork for systemic change – Kim has to come to firmly believe that if educators are thoughtful, open-minded and willing, they have the ability to create powerful educational experiences that will transform the future for our children, our society, and our planet. Kim is the founder of i2i Education Consulting, helping forward-thinking education leaders create meaningful learning for students ( She also publishes insights and learnings on life on her personal blog, ebb and flow,

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