Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leaders Need Support Too

I remember the first administrative team meeting I led as a school superintendent. The meeting went well. I was getting to know the principals, and we were developing a good relationship. We discussed several issues and developed a sense of direction for several pertinent issues. When that morning meeting adjourned, the principals decided they would go to lunch together on their first day back together as a team.

I was not invited.They left me alone. It hit me at that moment that my role had distinctly changed. I was clearly no longer part of that peer group. And maybe I would even be the subject of conversation during their lunch together.

Now I do not think for a minute that they intentionally meant to ignore me. I later became good friends with the members of that team. They are good people. I truly believe it did not even cross anyone's mind that to ignore me might be perceived as a slight by some.

But that is O.K. too. That group needed to work together and support each other. They needed to draw upon the talents of each other. A lunch together was a good building block for their camaraderie. The support they would provide for each other was different than the support I could offer as their immediate supervisor.

The question is "Who makes up that support structure for the school superintendent?" The chief executive of the school has no peer within the organization, yet he/she needs as much support as the building principals. It is lonely at the top.

A superintendent must develop a peer support group as well as a professional learning network. I recommend the work of Harvard professor Lee Teitel who urges superintendents to create their own peer support groups. There are numerous commonalities in the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis, regardless of the size of the school system. A chief needs a source of ideas for addressing challenging issues. Moreover, everyone needs positive feedback, at least once in a while. Leaders need to provide optimism for their charges, but often we need help finding that optimism for ourselves. Peers need to stand by their colleagues with positive support as well as advice. We are human, and we need the human touch.

So although you may have risen to your chief executive office largely because of your strong self-reliance, do not think you can do this alone. We all need help. If you do not need it today, you may someday. And maybe someone needs your help and support right now.

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