Leadership 2.0 has already had some amazing contributions from presenters and participants alike, but I was particularly struck by Chris Smeaton’s talk last night. He has said many of the things that I have thought and I tried to embody and was brutally honest. He talked about struggles with staff, some of the things that he has done to improve the culture, but did it in a way that was real and wasn’t in a “political” tone. He was blunt but not offensive and he said nothing that anyone would deem unprofessional. Still, so many people during the session were openly surprised that the role of superintendent was one where you could be so openly honest.
Here’s the thing…we talk about the importance of building relationships and honesty, yet so many in school/district administration seemingly worry about how their words may be interpreted/misinterpreted. A good friend of mine talked about his superintendent and how he refuses to have anything more than a one year contract because he feels that if the board isn’t happy with the work he is doing, they are more than welcome to get rid of him. His focus is serving the students, which should be his job. If the board feels he is not doing that, then they should let him go.
To me, I need honesty from those I work with because I don’t have the time to figure out what you want. I have heard this notion where you work with people to get them come around to feel that it was their solution as opposed to telling them what to do. I would rather you tell me what you want, than manipulate me to get what you want. It saves us both time and although it might be tough to hear, it should build trust.
I have had aspirations of being a superintendent at some point in my career, and I remember having a conversation with my brother regarding an honest post about some thing that I struggled with. I asked him what he had thought, and he had told me that he thought it was fine, but at some point, someone looking for a superintendent may not want that struggle to be so public. My response: if a board is not willing to understand that I am open and honest about who I am as a person and I can’t be real, I wouldn’t want to work with them. Period. Superintendents, principals, teachers all need to be real people, sometimes with ups, and sometimes with downs. If they can’t embody that transparency, what do they model for our students?
So why were so many people surprised that a superintendent was so brutally honest in last night’s session? Is this not what we want? Chris’ topic of “visionary leadership” was an important one tonight as a leaders should hold a vision. But if they cannot be totally honest with those that they serve, will that not ultimately blur the path?