Choosing What is Hard and Not What is Easy

Recently I was asked by my son’s school to be on the hiring committee to hire the new principal for the 2016-2017 school year.  Our current beloved principal, Ms Watson, is retiring next month, and she has been a tremendous leader.  When she became the school principal in 2004, the school was in disarray.  They were in bad shape financially, over a million dollars in debt and there were allegations of embezzlement and fraud from the previous leader.  There was a severe lack of trust in the administration as the school had been through 2 interim principals while the district was trying to find a good fit for the position.  Overall it was not the most healthy environment to work in.  Through Ms Watson’s 12 year tenure, she has completely transformed the school into a thriving, award winning school.  She is well-loved by her staff, students and parents.  The school is financially viable, responsible and doing very, very well.  It will be hard to replace her!  Some of our current teachers were around during the tumultuous times, so it is understandable as to why they have some apprehension about hiring a new leader.

Knowing the leadership history of the school, the hiring committee was keenly aware of the importance of finding the right person to take on this important role.  There were a lot of preparations put into hiring the new leader.  We interviewed the staff and made a list of what was important to them to make sure their voices were heard.  We made sure the job description had the the right mandatory qualifications for the role.  We needed to make sure that we not only had someone that was competent at the job, but also a good fit within the staff.  We compiled a list of interview questions that fell into many different categories:  leadership style, management style, legacy, vision, hiring new staff policies, financial experience, special education experience, budgeting, discipline, student/family relations, board experience, strengths, weaknesses and more!   The list was almost overwhelming, but all of the questions on the list were important to find the right person.

As the applications and resumes started to come in, the hiring committee met regularly to review the candidates.  We weeded out the resumes that did not fit our mandatory qualifications, but truly gave each one a chance at a first round interview.  In the end we had four solid candidates for the job.

During one of the interviews, there was one candidate that told a story that resonated with me that fits this month’s theme, The Feet of a Leader:  Be a Leader Who Walks the Talk.  The question the interviewer asked was:  Can you describe a time where it took courage to address a moral dilemma at work?  What was the outcome?  Now arguably, this question would also fall into The Spine of a Leader:  Be a leader who is courageous in tough times, but the story she told was one on accountability.  Without going into too many details, she and another colleague had done something that angered another teacher.  This seemingly innocent incident ended up growing in size that resulted in several staff meetings and emails that affected the entire faculty.  In reality, there was no evidence to prove who did it.  It would have been easy for her to remain anonymous and sweep the whole thing under the rug.  Instead she stepped up and took accountability for what she had done.  She apologized for her actions and explained what her original intention was.  I’m sure this was not an easy decision based on the uproar it had caused.  In the end she chose what was hard and not what was easy.  She chose to be an accountable leader.

In leadership, we are often faced with tough decisions.  The accountable leader is one who takes full accountability for their actions, including their response to difficult situations. The accountable leader makes responsible, conscious choices to align their response with their intention
as a leader, rather than taking the easy way out.

by Michelle Cummings, co-founder of Personify Leadership

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