Opportunity and Growth Doesn’t Just Exist
on the Golf Course
They say that great business deals are made on the golf course, and that may be true. My Dad played golf. My husband plays golf. My brother, in his 30s, got a job way above his pay grade because he, you guessed it, played golf. Now I don’t have anything against golf. It is a wonderful sport. But unfortunately, I am not a great player, nor do I choose to spend my time that way. However, what I have learned from the various golf players in my life is that building professional connections involves much more than formal meetings, long emails, and obligatory events. What analyzing golf playing has revealed to me is the importance of mentorship and an attitude of abundance.
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to find male and female leaders who acted in a way that compelled me to want to be better. These were brave educational leaders who balanced their passion for education with humanity and managerial expertise. They had high expectations and challenged you to meet those expectations. One knew every single person’s name, and she used it. One, when you made a mistake, would ask you questions so you would make the changes he expected. While other leaders did things like recommending resources that would allow me to grow. As I moved into various roles in the field of education, I took these lessons with me.
Also, as I moved into these roles, I began noticing a trend. While I was lucky to find great role models, very few of those in the Superintendent position were females. The National Center for Education Statistics data stated in 2018 76% of teachers were female. This was a rise from 66.9% in 1981. Yet, during the 2019-2020 school year only about 26% of superintendents were females. My informal observations bore these statistics out. When I went to conferences, many of the male leaders I admired took a day to play golf, whereas many of the female leaders I admired chose to go back to their rooms and work. It wasn't that those playing golf didn’t get work done as well. They did. It is that they recognized the importance of using informal networking and strengthening relationships. This is where my realization that women were missing out on ways to connect with colleagues became clearer.
My next big leadership shift was becoming a superintendent. Taking on the role of a superintendent is simultaneously overwhelming and exhilarating. Imposter syndrome is real. It is on these days that asking for advice from people I admire truly matters. Many sitting superintendents are kind enough to pick up the phone when I call, talk me through situations, and then act as a sounding board. Raccoon on the playground? Debrief with a retired leader. Bus accident? Call a seasoned superintendent on their way to work. Having a possibly contentious meeting? Have lunch with someone who successfully handled one in the past. Feeling unsure of a decision? Talk it through with leaders with different approaches, and seek to find your voice. Calling and meeting with these exceptional educational leaders has given me confidence. They, whether they know it or not, serve as mentors who help me grow.
Cultivating these relationships with mentors is just one facet of leadership growth. These are things that benefit me and make me better. But what is more important is I need to look at what I do daily to help others. You see, there are really enough opportunities for all of us, but the problem is a lot of the time, for a variety of reasons, female education leaders do not have people encouraging them or offering opportunities. When there is scarcity, there is the idea that we need to hoard opportunities less someone else get ahead. It is not like that on the golf course. There are plenty of opportunities and it is about seeing promise and giving people a chance. Often females do not go into leadership right away and when they do they think there are limited chances to grow and shine. That is not true. There is enough space for all sorts of leaders to gain roles and excel. So, I have begun looking for strong female leaders who are mid-career to give them a chance, both formally and informally, to see what they can offer. I look for people, men and women, who are ready to grow and try to help cultivate an attitude of abundance. I also seek to empower my fellow female colleagues. If I have a great idea, I’ll share it. If there are opportunities, I will share those too. Again, on the golf course, if someone needs a ball or a club a fellow player will always share willingly. We must take that mentality beyond the greens to the hallways and conference rooms and offer the same connections there. This is especially important if those we are helping might not have the same chance to network informally.
So, in the end, what does all of this mean? It means that leaders who are in the minority need to seek mentors. They need to ask questions and put aside their feelings of inadequacy. They need to look for talent in others. They need to share their ideas openly and seek to help others become their best selves. They need to look at the barriers that can keep one from stepping into the next role and share how they problem-solved getting kids to day care, going to school, being the “only”, and simply trying to finish a load of laundry In the end,, if you want to play golf, you can. But you don’t really need to play golf to have and create both access and opportunity. All you need is to make time to engage in the practices that have been offered on the golf course for years to help grow yourself and others.