This post is written in honor of my 8th graders, who completed their National History Day projects on the theme “Taking a Stand in History”. Somehow, this morphed into an ongoing joke in our orchestra room, and whenever students grab a music stand, they remind each other to “take a stand”! Ah, the humor of middle schoolers...
As a leader, you are often faced with a choice of whether to step up and take charge of a situation or stay back and see what happens. Some leaders like to be up front and be in charge. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it has the potential to limit the rest of the team by not giving them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn themselves. Other times, leaders can be timid, and shy away from confronting tough situations. This can leave teams floundering, as they are left to fend for themselves in an unhealthy way. Several years ago, I was given the advice to filter my desire to step up as a leader through the lens of if it would cost me something personally. If so, go for it, and be prepared to be the “sacrificial lamb” for whatever might come as a result! If it doesn’t cost anything, then think hard about why you are wanting to jump up front - is it for your ego, or is it really best for everyone?
While this is a very simplified view of leadership, this advice has come back to me over and over as I continue my journey in educational leadership.
Leaders have to make decisions...and then deal with the effects! Whether it is in the form of pushback, relational stress, or simply investing time and energy to make something happen, this is often a sacrifice! Yet there is beauty in the sacrifice as well. By standing in the gap, leaders have the opportunity to protect their teams from the full brunt of whatever happens. They can snuff out the little (and big!) problems before those problems ever get to the point where they affect the rest of the team. They are giving some of themselves for the sake of others. And that is a task worth pursuing!
Standing in the gap can be difficult, though. It takes a lot of resolve, conviction, and energy. It can be lonely. Your sacrifice may not even be seen or known by those you are working for! Often, it would be easier to stay silent. It would be easier to hope it all works out...or let somebody else step up and deal with all of the backlash.
But there is peace in knowing that you are standing up for what is right and doing what you can.
Today, I had the opportunity to stand in the gap for some of my students. It wasn’t the world’s biggest issue, but there was a moment in which I knew I had to make a decision, and that it would cost me. And while it has certainly added stress to my day, I am also encouraged.
...I’m encouraged that others are being empowered to advocate for their students, too!
...I’m encouraged that there is movement on some of the issues, and they are already being fixed!
...I’m encouraged that the backlash hasn’t been nearly as bad as I worried it could be - proof that our minds often go to worst fears which can be unfounded and unreasonable (so STOP worrying so much)!
...I’m encouraged that I actually had the courage to do this. I don’t think I would have a year, or even six months ago. But with my #oneword2017 being LEAD, I have become more and more comfortable with different facets of leadership.
These encouragements keep me going when I am dealing with a barrage of emails, phone calls, and tricky conversations. More opportunities will undoubtedly come, and I hope I will continue to grow in wisdom to know the right times to step up and when to step back, courage to stand up when necessary, and joy to keep smiling through it all!