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7 Questions on Leadership with Chuanika Sanders

Name: Chuanika Sanders

Title: Executive Leadership Coach

Organisation: Imagine & Inspire Leadership

Chuanika’s passion for supporting leaders is fueled by her experience and achievements in educational leadership. With over two decades of successfully leading change in urban schools, she has amassed a wealth of knowledge and skills that are highly coveted in the field.

Chuanika has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to transform school organizations, coach leaders, build teams, and foster partnerships, making her an invaluable asset to the education sector.

As an Executive Leadership Coach for principals and aspiring leaders in the School District of Philadelphia, Chuanika embodies her commitment to supporting and inspiring education leaders. She partners with leaders to help them identify and transform familiar and comfortable patterns that hinder them from reaching their full leadership potential.

She has successfully assisted school leaders in prioritizing goals and shifting self-limiting paradigms amidst an onslaught of rapidly expanding responsibilities and stakeholder expectations. Her leadership is highly valued because of her genuine passion for helping others achieve their full potential, her ability to see beyond the obvious, and her unique combination of business acumen and emotional intelligence.

After witnessing the devastating effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on school leaders and educational organizations, Chuanika founded Imagine & Inspire LLC to support and inspire leaders. Imagine & Inspire focuses on leadership development through coaching and customized workshops.

Chuanika is driven by the work of empowering leaders and supporting them with building teams to transform organizations. She articulates a vision of equity for all students and champions the professional growth and development of all educators. Chuanika’s thoughtful and creative approach to leading change and inspiring leaders makes her an asset and a valued leader in the field.

Chuanika’s educational background includes a M.S. in Educational Administration from Temple University, a Superintendent's Letter of Eligibility from Arcadia University, and an Executive Coaching Certificate from Saint Joseph's University.

She is a senior fellow in the Neubauer Fellowship of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders Organization. Her experience provides her with the expertise to effectively develop leaders and institute change.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Chuanika's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

I consistently strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance and prioritize self-care, which presents an ongoing challenge that I willingly embrace. It's easy to become engrossed in work-related endeavors, making it crucial for me to hold myself accountable for purposeful time management.

Doing so creates a sense of work-life harmony, allowing me to achieve my goals, be present for my family, and invest in my growth as a leader.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Being the oldest among my siblings, I naturally assumed the role of diligently looking after my younger brother and sisters. I cherished the moments spent with them, engaging in teaching, organizing activities, and fostering innovation when we were together.

Looking back, I now recognize these experiences as my early introduction to leadership, where I unknowingly guided and orchestrated our endeavors as a team.

My journey into leadership wasn't a predetermined path. Initially, my aspirations revolved around pursuing a career in music performance and engineering, driven by my genuine passion for singing, composing songs, and arranging music.

However, a change of heart occurred during my first year of college when I found a profound interest in working with children and helping them learn. This newfound passion led me to major in elementary education and eventually become a teacher.

My leadership journey began when I was appointed to a teacher-leader role early in my teaching career. I distinctly recall wrapping up a math lesson one day when my principal and assistant superintendent walked into my classroom.

After observing the class and interacting with students, my principal approached me with the proposition to take on a teacher-leader position. While I felt honored, I was also apprehensive. The idea of stepping out of my comfort zone to collaborate with adults instead of students gave me pause.

Through the encouragement of one of my early mentors, I eventually embraced the opportunity. Stepping into this role turned out to be a pivotal moment that opened numerous doors for me.

This initial experience in leadership taught me valuable lessons in teamwork, nurturing leadership qualities, and building cohesive teams, all of which became foundational for future leadership opportunities.

Each phase of my journey has uniquely equipped me with the tools and wisdom essential for my evolving leadership role.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I try to prioritize time for self-reflection and self-care daily.

6:00-6:20 (prayer meditation)

6:25-7:00 (morning routine to prepare for the day)

7:00-7:30 (breakfast with my children/check email)

7:30-8:30 (maximize the work commute by listening to a podcast, audiobook, etc.)

8:30-12:30 (meetings, site visits, coaching sessions)

12:30-1:00 (lunch/check email)

1:00-3:30 (meetings, site visits, coaching sessions)

3:30-4:30 (notes, reflection, return calls)

4:30-5:30 (commute, return calls)

5:45-6:45 (dinner with family)

7:00-8:00 (exercise, walking, reflecting)

8:00-9:00 (check email, read notes, prepare for the next day)

9:00-9:45 (evening routine to prepare for bed)

9:45-11:00 (wind down, read, study, listen to music)

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I'm frequently reminded that effective leadership doesn't happen in isolation; it thrives on solid teamwork and empowering others. Successful leaders recognize their duty to nurture emerging talents, offering them opportunities to learn, grow, and shine.

Influential leaders dedicate themselves to fostering, supporting, and enabling others to reach their full potential.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Patrick Lencioni's "The Five Dysfunctions of A Team" has significantly influenced my leadership journey. It has provided insights into the challenges teams face while striving for cohesiveness, enabling me to navigate the complexities of team-building effectively.

In my leadership experience, I've been part of various teams; some I led, others where I was a member. I encountered conflicts, trust issues, and struggles to achieve results. This book has been instrumental in helping me develop skills for building better teams.

One vital lesson I've learned is the importance of trust as a foundation. Trust fosters an environment where vulnerability can thrive, an essential element for successful teamwork.

Trust works both ways; team members need to trust the leader, and the leader needs to trust the team. This realization led me to shift my leadership approach, embracing a greater sense of trust in both directions. This adjustment has been pivotal in my growth as a leader.

Lencioni's teachings have also shed light on the value of healthy conflict within a team. Embracing disagreements and allowing for diverse viewpoints has proven essential for generating optimal outcomes.

This shift from seeking perpetual agreement to encouraging constructive conflict has resulted in a more vibrant exchange of ideas, leading to innovative strategies that benefit from collective scrutiny.

A significant insight emerged in the exchange of trust, respect, and the freedom to challenge ideas. This combination, when nurtured, fosters commitment to a shared mission.

This dynamic has created an environment where differing opinions are not just accepted but actively welcomed. In these moments of candid disagreement, the most ingenious ideas take root, leading to developing strategies that resonate deeply with the team's collective purpose.

"The Five Dysfunctions of A Team" remains a guiding force in my leadership journey. Its principles have instigated a profound shift within me, empowering me to cultivate and nurture teams that thrive on trust, respect, and constructive conflict.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Pause and consider these questions. Allow your responses to serve as the compass for your leadership journey:

Whom do I aspire to be as a leader?

What values drive me at my core?

Whom does my leadership ultimately serve?

Why does this mission hold significance?

How can I invest in others, fostering a team of innovative, capable leaders?

What steps can I take to enhance my own growth, ensuring I am the best version of myself for those I serve?

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I was preparing for a staff meeting when a leadership team member approached me, requesting a brief conversation before the session. Initially, I was tempted to decline, given the limited time left before the meeting. Yet, my intuition urged me to pause and lend an ear.

With gratitude for the moment, the team member began to share essential information, stressing its significance for our impending meeting with the staff. Although I had no clue about the nature of the discussion, her words commanded my complete attention.

To my surprise, I learned that the team harbored concerns over my handling of an incident from the prior week. Their agitation stemmed from a perceived inconsistency in my actions compared to my usual approach.

I believed my response aligned with our shared vision and mission. In my perspective, I acted promptly and equitably in addressing a situation that had the potential to escalate. Yet, as I stood there, intently listening, I recognized a previously unexplored viewpoint I had overlooked before taking action.

In that instant, I grasped that there can often be a discrepancy between our self-perception as leaders and how others perceive or experience our leadership.

This experience led me to a profound realization. If not for a team member who entrusted me with candid feedback, I would have missed a significant opportunity for personal growth and development as a leader.

With newfound clarity, I decided to deviate from the scheduled agenda and approached the staff meeting with a receptive stance. We openly discussed the incident that had transpired the week prior and collaboratively mapped a path forward.

In hindsight, this encounter served as a pivotal moment that underscored the importance of embracing diverse viewpoints and fostering an environment of open communication.

It taught me that genuine leadership is an evolving journey, one where continuous self-assessment and a willingness to listen are crucial components for meaningful growth and progress.

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