Dr Joseph Kotarski, International K-12 School Leader, United Arab Emirates

Dr Joseph Kotarski has over 15 years teaching and educational leadership experience across the USA, UK, and MENA region. He holds his Doctor of Education in organizational change and leadership and his research interests aim to evaluate the use of teacher performance assessments in developing teachers new to the profession; particularly video-based teaching segments that can be utilized to model best practices.  

He began his teaching career in the U.K. and later progressed to teaching and middle leadership in the U.A.E. where he supported his school with its inaugural and subsequent KHDA inspections in Dubai. Later he was a founding member of a Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. where he led social-emotional and curriculum enrichment initiatives. Later he led a non-for-profit K-12 school in Morocco where he led the school through its accreditation candidacy. 

Dr Kotarski leads school accreditation reviews for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and also is a reviewer for joint NEASC, Council of International Schools (CIS), and International Baccalaureate (I.B.) school accreditation visits. Dr Kotarski lives with his wife and twins in Dubai and is humbled to be leading Dubai Schools.


Poet and Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou once said, A leader sees greatness in other people. He nor she can be much of a leader if all they see is themself. As an experienced school leader and graduate of a Doctorate Organisational Change and Leadership program, Angelou’s words orient me to my “north star” of educational leadership which is servant driven

Leaders and Followers

Leaders must work to win over their employees as “followers.” An employee that is a follower of their organisation’s leader is likely to trust and buy-in to their leader’s ability to communicate and act on the purpose, vision, and mission of their organisation while non-followers are likely to be suspect of their leaders ability to articulate and deliver their stated organisational ideals. Plain and simple, the more followers a leader has then the more productive and successful the organisation. Servant leaders are best positioned to maximise their followers leading to enhanced organisational performance. 

What is Servant Leadership?

Existing literature on leadership tells us that leaders personal and professional values impact organisational performance. By embracing servant leadership values effective servant leaders are able to attract and influence followers of their organisation by building trust and empowering their employees in turn leading to returns on employee performance and organisational productivity.

Servant leaders are characterized and driven by six key behaviour traits:

Servant Leader Behaviour Traits

  • Conceptualizing: Understanding the organisation
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Put followers first
  • Support followers growth and success
  • Behave ethically
  • Empowerment


Servant leadership practise begins with the leaders ability to effectively conceptualise their organisations purpose, vision, and mission and use their conceptual understandings to address opportunities and challenges that arise within the organisation. By understanding their own organisational context, servant leaders are positioned to practice high leverage behaviours that enhance the relationship with their followers. By conceptualising a servant leadership mindset, leaders are better poised to strengthen the identity, articulation, and reinforcement of their organisational vision. 

Emotional Intelligence

Servant leaders exercise high emotional intelligence. By being aware of and responsive to their followers personal concerns and well-being, servant leaders put followers first by communicating and taking actions that let their followers know their concerns are being addressed; servant leaders build trust with their followers by recognising and aiming to resolve their problems by empathising and nurturing their needs. 

Put Followers First

Building relationships with followers is a paramount characteristic of servant leadership. In order to cultivate essential stakeholder relationships and build leadership capacity servant leaders aspire to exercise a serve-first mindset that is focused on empowering and uplifting all stakeholders in their organisation through accountable autonomy. Actions and words from the leader are demonstrable as servant leaders address followers concerns as a top priority and put their needs ahead of their own. Servant leaders are prepared to break from their own tasks to support their followers with their tasks. 

Support Followers Growth and Success

By serving, as opposed to imposing, showing humility instead of brandishing authority, and placing razor-sharp focus on enhancing the development of organisational learning through growth mindset and mindfulness practices, employees are primed to be developed in ways that unlock potential, creativity, innovation, and maximize performance.  Organisational effectiveness increases when leaders are trustworthy and, in turn, place visible trust in their team by empowering them to be contributing designers and key drivers of initiatives. Servant leaders are aware of their employee aspirations and support and mentor their teams to become self-actualising in realising their full potential. 

Behave Ethically

Servant leaders do not compromise their ethical standards in order to achieve success. Instead, leaders are focused on being open, honest, and fair with their employees. It is essential that servant leaders solicit input when making decisions from people who could be negatively impacted by the decision, especially where appropriate, from people who usually do not agree. Regardless of the outcome, servant leaders must be effective communicators by informing and explaining circumstances to key stakeholders before implementing key decisions. The most powerful teaching tool a leader has is leading by example, which is occurring all the time, whether intended or not, conscious, or not. Therefore, leaders must always demonstrate integrity. In practice, leaders always do as they say they are going to do by keeping my commitments; equally important leaders are the first to own their own mistakes and genuinely apologize as soon as possible expressing appropriate leadership humility.  


Leadership in the 21st-century calls for a shift away from the traditional role of leaders as “managers” to instead serve as “facilitators, mentors, and coaches” of organisational growth and learning. Servant leadership calls on leaders to make space for employees to have the freedom to make decisions on their own, be independent, and self-sufficient. Servant leaders build collaboration systems that facilitate power sharing with followers. By doing so followers develop a heightened sense of confidence in their own abilities and capacity to think and act on their own as a result of leader empowerment. 

Organisational Returns on Service Leadership

The model of servant leadership leads to greater employee self-actualisation. This can be seen as a favourable outcome as employee role-performance improves leading followers to be more accomplished at meeting requirements and demands of their job expectations. Another expected result of servant leadership is that followers are positioned to become servant leader themselves with their colleagues in the workplace; the model of servant leadership utilises caring and ethical behaviour and this in turn has the capacity to build shared cultural practices. There are several well-grounded studies that suggest when servant leaders are leading their teams that followers are likely to go above and beyond the scope of their core responsibilities leading to enhanced organisational returns. 

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