When Leaders Show Up and Do Something

It’s hard to be a leader right now. Between the current Omicron wave of infections, our continued national political dysfunction and what’s shaping up to be a harsh winter for much of the country, I’d argue that we’re facing a national moral problem. 

People, especially those leading schools, are just plain tired of everything. We can’t wait to put all of this behind us. 

Leaders are more aware than ever that just showing up – an act that is critically important to the long-term success of any educational organization – is no longer enough. Pre-Covid, a head of school was lauded for shaking hands in morning carpool. Now, every day, school leaders are juggling ever-changing safety protocol, ever-fluid admissions, and so much more. Daily habits from a few years ago can feel like a bygone era.

Where school leaders can show up right now.

I argue that the actions you take to be visible and genuinely engaged in your school community are essential now. The pandemic-version of waving, socially distanced should absolutely be on your daily schedule. Showing up can’t be faked. It may be difficult to carve out time from the high-level issues you are facing, but it’s necessary. 

Students, teachers and parents notice when leaders take the time to be an authentic part of the daily school day. Showing up sends the message that you “practice what you preach.” And in these challenging times, it gives you an opportunity to have real-time conversations and lasting connections with your students and parents. 

You have spent nearly two years in crisis mode, communicating ever-changing public health protocols and navigating your school through the unknown. The seemingly small acts of showing up – logging into a Zoom class to listen, talking with students in the hallway, connecting with parents at a sporting event – create a community and reservoir of trust. 

Trust is “the coin of the realm,” right now and always, says G. Peter O’Neill, Jr., former longtime head of school and executive coach with Carney-Sandoe. I interviewed him last June for Kalix’s Leading Voices video series. The sage advice he shared for school leaders could’ve been spoken last week. 

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what YOU CAN do today.” ~Benjamin Franklin

The next logical step after showing up is doing something. I am not talking about all the big things you are doing right now to keep your community safe and the important business of learning/teaching moving forward. I am talking about the times when, as the leader of your community, you’ve noticed something is off. Perhaps you just walked down a hallway that looked tired and outdated and could use a fresh coat of paint. If you notice it, your students, teachers and parents do, too. 

What would it mean, especially right now, to your community if you address the “little” things as well as lead on the big issues? Don’t add it to a list of summer campus improvement projects. Make it happen now.

Why school leaders should address the “little” things too.

In this age of technology, we can’t forget that sometimes the simplest form of communication can have the most impact. You’ve just come back from having a socially distanced lunch in your dining hall and spoke with a new, young faculty member who is stressed but pushing forward despite Covid in doing some innovative things in the classroom. How powerful would it be if you wrote this colleague a short, hand-written note thanking them for keeping their students highly motivated? People remember the little things. And people need this acknowledgement right now. Make it happen today.  

Another example of showing up + doing something = trust/community building: You’ve heard from one of your division heads that a school parent is very ill and is in the hospital. Pick up the phone and call the family to let them know you are here to help. Even if you leave a simple voice mail, that can mean a great deal. Tell the family that you’ve organized a food chain and dinner will be delivered for the next week by the parent association. Yes, you can make that happen as well. 

Leadership is not easy. At times it can feel very lonely. Today’s challenges demand that you are doing everything possible to lead from the front and not the rear. The small things do matter. They can make a major difference to a student, faculty member or a parent. Acts of empathy and friendliness are needed now. Make it happen.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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