The Vulnerable Leader

I’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions recently, as I was accepted into a principal cohort in our district.  Of course, I was very excited at first, but after a few minutes of joy and elation, I started to panic.  I couldn’t help but think, “What have I done?”  All of a sudden, the confidence I had gained as a VP vanished.  I started to wonder, “What if my new staff discovers that I don’t have all of the answers?”  I know that I was being completely irrational, since I don’t even have an actual principal job yet.  However, I began to have the same pangs of doubt as when I first started to teach and wondered what would happen if a student asked a question to which I didn’t have the answer!

After overcoming this brief bout of panic, I calmed down and regained my sense of confidence.  I realized that, at my new school, I will remain genuine and true to whom I am and, if that means admitting that I don’t know everything as a leader, then so be it.  In fact, some of the best principals I’ve ever worked with embraced this sense of ambiguity and said, “let’s learn together.”  I am a life-long learner and if I don’t know something, I’m really good at working hard to find an answer.  As well, I’m quite comfortable in acknowledging that I don’t know it all because I am resourceful and a collaborator when it comes to finding a solution.  After some reflection, I realized that I, myself, have the leadership qualities that I admired in my previous principals; the challenge for me will now be to deal with my angst regarding the ambiguity and uncertainty that I’ll experience in my future role as principal.  Welcome to leadership?

The idea of moving to a new school further adds to my sense of unease.  In my current position as a VP, I’m okay with taking risks and I realize that the only difference is, at my new school, I will not know the staff as well as I know my current colleagues, therefore I won’t feel as safe to show my vulnerable side.  It’s so much easier to take risks amongst friends.  However, I can turn that angst into a strength since I’ll be able to model vulnerability for my staff so that they will feel safe to take risks and learn alongside me.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to be okay with ambiguity and vulnerability.  If not, I’m going to waste my time as the leader of a new school trying to mask the fact that I don’t know everything.  However, I need to strike a proper balance between being vulnerable and being a strong leader.  My staff won’t want a leader who lacks confidence.  So, I’ll need to call upon my resources of past experience and trust in myself.

I went through the same sort of feelings when I was first hired as a VP. I was scared because I didn’t want to disappoint my colleagues who depended on me.  As it turned out, I ended up winning the trust and confidence of my staff and parent community.  I will have to trust myself to do the same thing again, whenever I’m called upon to lead a school.  Previously, I’ve always had the safety net of being able to rely on my principal. The difference with my new challenge is that I’m going to be that net. However, I know that even as the principal, I will always be able to rely on my colleagues and mentors for help. The point of good leadership, I think, is that you never have to go it alone.

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