Universal Women’s Week
Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.
– Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Universal Women’s Week
– Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Will Eisner’s Birthday
– Will Eisner
Peace Corps Week
– John F. Kennedy
Sisterhood and Brotherhood Week
– Vera Nazarian
Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.
If you have seen a Spider-Man (and, yes, the use of the hyphen is correct!) movie, then you are likely to be familiar with this mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Peter Parker’s uncle Ben shared this nugget of wisdom with his young nephew shortly before the old man met his fate – a fate (in an ironic twist of fate) Peter could have prevented.
Ben did not know his nephew was endowed with super powers. He did not know that his nephew would, eventually, become one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. What he did know is that people have power. They have power to affect change.
His challenge to Peter is to use his power – whatever power he has – for good. He reminds him that, to do nothing when you can do something, is wrong. If one possesses the power to act for the good of others, they should.
What a message this is to all of us. Of the many, many messages that comic books and super hero movies and pop culture conveys, this is one of my favorites because it is simple and it is powerful.
If you have blessings, use them.
If you have power, exercise it for good.
If you are privileged, you have responsibilities.
There are worse role models…
What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?
This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.
Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.
Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.
Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?
These are challenging questions, to be sure.
But there are answers.
Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.
And to answer them.
Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.
If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.
And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?
We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.
We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.
When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.
If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.
However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.
This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.
When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?
If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.
If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.
The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.
African Heritage Week
– W. E. B. Du Bois
Catholic Schools Week
– David Vitter
Clean Your Inbox Week
Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear.
In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss myself and my leadership in detailed and reflective ways, asked questions by groups of dedicated educators who were most interested in my answers. I was both lucky and blessed to have been part of three separate search processes – processes looking to identify qualities in applicants for instructional leaders of schools. The conversations were long, intense, exciting and exhilarating one-and-all.
As I moved from conversation-to-conversation, process-to-process, I found myself listening to myself and reflecting on what I was saying in medias res which was a very interesting experience. After all, there are questions that good interview committees will be sure to ask and questions for which I very much needed to be prepared, prepared to give my most honest and authentic responses.
Inevitably, the question of how I would, as the instructional leader, listen to the staffs and the teachers and the students of each respective institution – was raised.
I replied that listening is a critical component of educational leadership, but not the most critical one. And, in fact, I found myself saying, on more than one occasion and working quickly to explain myself, how important it is that people feel as though they are heard.
Hang on, now… “feeling” as though one is heard does not actually indicate that someone has been heard.
Good leaders listen, sure. Good educational leaders are good at listening.
Exceptional educational leaders are exceptionally good at hearing.
Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear. The must work at it and hone the skill. They must realize that hearing is so much more important than simply listening.
Hearing implies a desire to connect. Hearing implies wanting to comprehend. Hearing implies action.
Listening is passive. Someone who is listening is just there, in the room or the office, nodding, smiling, listening.
Hearing is active. Someone who is hearing is engaged, asking questions, offering support, giving suggestions.
Leaders who valuing hearing put away all distractions, close their laptops and shut down their tablets. They silence and set aside their phones and they hear.
When a true leader says “I hear you” the person to whom they say it does not just feel heard, she or he knows without a doubt she or he has been heard.
A leader does not just listen, a leader hears.
(oh, and a follow up on those conversations about formal educational leadership is coming…)