As our school year approached, we welcomed back our teachers with great plans of professional development, engaging activities and time spent connecting as a staff. This sounds familiar to many leaders as they plan the welcome back day for staff. This was our plan for August as well. However, hours before our entire district teaching staff returned, we had a very challenging situation occur that would greatly impact the entire district. A malicious malware virus impacted the district’s computer system shutting down the computer operating system affecting student schedules, HVAC, operating systems and much more.
You can imagine the shock that we all felt as we learned that information – weeks of hard work and planning were lost. In addition, the uncertainty of how we would move forward with the beginning of school a few days away became very real and apparent. Over the course of days, our district provided an intentional plan of “putting the pieces back together” that would allow us to start school on time with schedules for students completed. This took great collaborative leadership, extremely hard work and hours of efforts by many people. There were setbacks and not everything was perfect – but the focus continued to remain on clear communication, focused efforts and moving closer to getting everything back to normal. The best part – we started school on time and I do not believe students ever noticed the challenging few days that existed for staff as we focused on making the 1st day amazing for kids!
During this experience, it was an authentic reminder about the importance of leadership and the impact it can have upon people. The following traits are key areas of leadership that I observed which occur during a difficult situation that are essential for success:
- Focus on what you can control – When difficult things happen, it is natural to have emotions and negative thoughts. However, leaders must shift the focus to intentional thoughts on moving forward and what they can do within their control to respond to the challenge.
- Model the behaviors you want others to show – When there is a devastating situation, human reactions can be one of grief, frustration, anxiety and much more. During these times, staff will look to their leaders for direction and how to react. Leaders must model “calm, patience and flexibility” as this allows the staff to move forward with the right demeanor and decision-making.
- Make lemons out of lemonade – Life can be challenging and working in schools has its own unique set of challenges. If you add in a difficult situation, then it can be unsurmountable for some people to move forward. Leaders must purposefully focus on what can they do to move it in a positive that allows the school to come out of the situation better than before. We must find the strength within ourselves in a situation to help see the great potential and capitalize upon it. In this particular situation, we developed an entirely new schedule for day 1 with kids, as we were not sure if we would have student class schedules. We ended up using this schedule (despite having student schedules ready) as everyone became so excited as we all were invested in developing this Plan B. The Plan B is now our Plan A moving forward in future years as we saw how positive it was for kids.
- Don’t make decisions in a vacuum – When there are challenges, any person can be swayed by emotion or poor thoughts as there are many variable to consider. It is critical that leaders use the wisdom, creativity and experience of others to help you. The collective decision making of many is important in a situation as it allows all perspectives to be considered and determined what is best for kids.
- The challenging situation will make us collectively stronger and more united – Situations that involve collective work, setbacks and then new ideas to develop is a measure of the resilience of the organization. In many instances, it allows us to see our “blind spots” that we may not have recognized as existed previously. As we work through the difficult process, we grow stronger together. As a result, the focused work make us better as a school and great for kids.
Excellence is not a skill but an attitude – leaders who excel are intentional and they focus on the right work. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to solve difficult situations and it allows us to reflect and learn valuable lessons. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org