Be vulnerable

(Photo: Dennis Sparks)

“The simple sentence ‘I was wrong’ is the hardest for leaders to utter and the most necessary for them to learn.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Many leaders seem to believe that their job descriptions require that they know the answers to all questions and the solution to every problem. They also seem to believe that leaders are not supposed to make mistakes, and, if they do make them, that it’s important to conceal the mistakes from those they lead.

As a student teacher I received a profound bit of wisdom from my supervising teacher. “When a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer, rather than feeling embarrassed, turn the situation into a learning experience for you and for the class,” she told me. The same wisdom can be applied to school leadership, particularly as it relates to the vulnerability of learning and risk taking and to the mistakes that will inevitably ensue in the pursuit of important goals.

Continuous improvements in teaching and learning require that educators—including leaders—work outside their comfort zones. That means that leaders may sometimes publicly struggle with the awkwardness and lowered performance that often accompanies the initial phase of acquiring a new skill.

Leaders can stimulate growth throughout the school community when they say things like:

• “Learning new skills can be difficult for me and it’s sometimes scary. Please support me as I move outside my comfort zone.”

• “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.”

• “I made a mistake, and here’s what I learned from it.”

“If a leader cannot admit being wrong in a timely fashion, he or she can never correct mistakes, change direction, and restore success,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells us. Demonstrating vulnerability is an important way in which leaders can initiate significant change in the school culture by first changing themselves.

Take a moment now to . . .

• identify an upcoming situation in which you can authentically admit vulnerability in one or more of the ways suggested above.

1 Response to “Be vulnerable”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott April 12, 2010 at 7:36 am

    A principal I know asked his faculty to anonymously rate his performance each year in several categories. He would post the results and ask for advice with the categories with the lowest numbers. Talk about being vulnerable. He told me that what frustrated him most was that the lowest numbers often remained low even after working to raise them. He did improve in many categories, but even if he didn’t, the message to the faculty that he tried won him great support.


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