Teach & Serve III, No. 13
Tyranny of the Immediate
November 1, 2017
When leadership cannot work itself out from under the pressures of what must be done to address what ought to be done, institutions can suffer from a lack of creativity, a dearth of energy and an absence of vision.
I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance a couple weeks back to attend a gathering of Jesuit educators in Rio De Janeiro which was challenging, inspiring and paradigm shifting. I am still processing the event and will surely have more to write about it in coming editions of this blog but, for now, I was struck by something powerful and direct, a point so important I wanted to share it.
David Laughlin is the long tenured and accomplished president of St. Louis University High School. Intelligent, driven, smart and savvy, David is someone to whom to listen in whatever venue he speaks. At this event, he was the first of four keynotes and his words were what I have come to expect from him: useful and practical while being visionary and uplifting.
He spoke about challenges facing Catholic and Jesuit schools, to be sure, but many of his points are applicable to schools of all models, shapes and sizes.
What I found immediately striking and all-but universal was this question: how do we as teachers and school leaders work to vision for our schools – to reach for the always in motion horizon – when we suffer from what David called “the tyranny of the immediate.”
There is so much that we do in our work that must be done when it is right in front of us and I use the word “must” intentionally. This kind of immediate work must be done because, if it is not done, the school cannot function. It may not be the most important work. It may not be the most critical work. But it is the work that cannot be put off, cannot wait, cannot be prioritized lower.
Leaders can be overwhelmed by this kind of work. Their leadership can be short-circuited by this tyranny of the immediate. When leadership cannot work itself out from under the pressures of what must be done to address what ought to be done, institutions can suffer from a lack of creativity, a dearth of energy and an absence of vision.
Good leaders free themselves from the tyranny of the immediate. They understand it and the cope with it. They put it as much behind them as they can, as readily as they can.
The tyranny of the immediate can sink a leader and inadequate leaders believe that addressing the immediate effectively is leadership in-and-of-itself.
It is not. It is simply tyranny and not that far from chaos.
Excellent leaders fight the tyranny of the immediate. And they win.