Leading Unapologetically: Four Essential Steps to Hone Your Authentic Voice
Often, we, as public school district leaders, are pulled to engage in tons of urgent work but this work may not be considered important work. Accordingly, we must take an unapologetic stance relative to what is important to us.
It is Monday morning at 9:30 am, and the following occurs:
- Two parents show up to your office unannounced.
- One school principal calls to share the school is evacuating due to an electrical short in a classroom light.
- The Student Government Association (SGA) leaders call to ask if you forgot about the meeting to discuss several student-related issues and an upcoming student protest.
- A positive and helpful community member calls to discuss a potential collaborative effort.
With the above four items occurring simultaneously, you have a decision to make. What would you do first, second, third and fourth? For me, I would take the call from the students and inform them that I am en route to our scheduled meeting. Then, I would ask my executive assistant to:
- Confirm with the principal that emergency safety protocols were followed and then text me an update.
- Provide parents requesting an announced meeting the “stakeholder reflection” form so they can document their concerns and then my executive assistant can direct them to the appropriate district staff member responsible for the area governing their concerns.
- Confirm a mutually convenient date and time to meet with the community member.
Always Keep Students First
As simple as it sounds to always keep students first, regrettably, it does not always occur. Our students must be a priority. It is difficult to stay focused on children when there are tons of urgent but often not truly important distractions. There are a multitude of adult issues that can, if you allow it, pull your well-meaning intentions to stay focused on students to move to adult matters. While our adults are critical to a well-functioning school district, you must have a team in place to respond to needs of all elements of a district including the adults supporting students while having a laser focus on the needs of students. For every agenda created, for every meeting scheduled, for every phone call made, and for every document created — Ask yourself who benefits first from this work.
Name Your Vision and Follow Your Vision
Before you assume a leadership role — Ask yourself what are your philosophical drivers, what issues are near and dear to your heart and why. Be unapologetic about who you are, your vision and your commitment to aligning your vision to your actions.
Be Honest and Transparent Even When It Makes You Vulnerable
Tell the truth even when it may make you vulnerable. While being politically savvy is necessary, leaders are cautioned not to avoid decisions that may make you feel uncomfortable. Although it is perhaps easier to simply ignore issues, it’s never easy when you lose yourself for the sake of “sitting in the leadership seat.”
Be a Forever Student
Many leaders must make decisions. These decisions require leaders to be well versed in various areas. Accordingly, reading articles, books and attending professional conferences are essential to leading unapologetically. Stay abreast of issues in your field by listening to multiple voices as different perspectives about the same issues will enable you to make more responsive decisions.
Leading unapologetically is a personal and professional challenge as there is often conflict when you disrupt practices of status quo thinking and status quo existing. Depending on your environment, you will be welcomed as a breath of fresh air or you will be considered a threat to “the way we have always done things.” Despite the potential backlash, lead unapologetically anyway!