|Practicing Trusting Each Other|
“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” ~ Brene Brown
As a new leader earlier in my career, I thought strength meant having confidence, intelligence, and of course, the right answer at the right moment. In fact, as an achiever, I felt this was the winning combination to life in general. Of course, both life and leadership quickly humbled me into recognizing the enormous opportunity in failing forward and in adding comfort with ambiguity to my leadership and life toolkit. So I did, and for a long time, I operated fearlessly and comfortably with a comfortable level of ambiguity.
And then this year, my whole world became unhinged. January 2016 found me starting the year on my own after my nearly 20-year marriage ended. March brought an miraculously early diagnosis of kidney cancer. April was a quick study in nephrology and kidney surgery to take place in early May. The week of the surgery, my team and I found out from a news leak that our beloved school would be closing and another school would be taking over our space after next year. That is, if we were able to rally enough community support to remain open for the planned 2016-17 school year, and that is, if I was willing to take the Head position and lead the K-8 school in this final operating year.
As life has taught me to do in so many circumstances, I said yes to all of these life surprises. And that is how I found myself this summer pondering the following questions (among so many others not listed):
- What does leading mean in this circumstance? What should my role be?
- How will I care for my team and our community through the pain of losing something we have built together?
- How will I build a deep enough reservoir of positive energy so that I can pull from it even when I am feeling vulnerable and worried about the future?
- Where are the unique opportunities here, for my team, the community, and for me?
- How can we bring our best and honor what we have built together while letting it go? How can we ensure it lives beyond its current form?
- Where is strength to be found amidst disappointment and vulnerability?
I entered this year with all these questions on my mind with very few points of clarity. I had only come to recognize the following:
- It would be a morale mountain we’re climbing, so infusing positivity and joy into the journey would be essential.
- Those who signed up for this experience would have remarkable qualities, and we would learn from each other. I needed to listen and be present.
- My life circumstances meant I was already leading from vulnerability, but I wanted to lead with it. To do so, I would need to lead with honesty, willing to say, I’m here with you and I don’t know either and sometimes I’m also scared. But it’s going to be a great journey, and I am so grateful we get to share it.
We are enough into the year to have had these assumptions confirmed. I have also augmented my understanding of leadership in this situation by learning from those around me. To that list, I have added the following:
- When you lead with honesty and vulnerability, what people see is courage and strength, not weakness. They also lead with this, and because there is nothing to lose in this exchange, what emerges is collective courage.
- Creativity is heightened in this situation because of a few conditions: a) The people who signed up for this are comfortable with ambiguity and change, and are therefore typically creative. b) We are all in the act of reimagining or life and dreaming of the narrative beyond this year, so we are in a creative zone. Being a leader in this moment means getting out of the way for creative ideas to rise and blossom.
- The scariest thing has happened, so very little is left to get in the way. What remains is a unique opportunity to leverage the collective courage and creativity to take take risks that may seem too scary under normal operating conditions. This has led to bolder choices in our teaching and learning models, and greater willingness to have complex conversations about hard topics such as race and privilege.
- Staying united is what matters through this year. We’ve shifted focus from nurturing program growth to nurturing relationships as we know we’ll need to rely on the strength of these relationships later in the year when fatigue or fear or sorrow set in.
We are all facing a real loss together - teachers, parents, and children. It is hard. Happy faces at Curriculum Night last week evoked a mix of celebration and sadness. The loss means something different to each of us, but what has been remarkable is to witness the unique strengths of each person on our amazingly courageous- innovative-vulnerable team emerge. For today, I am just appreciative of this gift and for the collective strength I can draw upon in moments of vulnerability. I’ve come to recognize that is the reservoir.