THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE ROOM
Everyone who knows me well as a leader (and as a person since I believe the two cannot be separated) knows that my leadership philosophy is grounded in the reasoning of basketball legend John Wooden. I am confident that life's lessons can best be taught when you're in the game, metaphorically speaking. Wooden's treatise revolved around his contention that great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than them and aren't afraid to challenge them. I've always appreciated the smartest person in the room. It never intimidated me or made me feel less vital.
I've normalized speaking up, playing devil's advocate, and flat out challenging an idea notion, or decision, regardless of my positional authority at the time, from principal to superintendent. An idea is like a theory. I want to be surrounded by people who will poke holes in it and make a case against it.
One colleague in particular stood out. This leader emerged from a team of leaders and assumed the dissenter role with such veracity that it shaped the rest of my career and life. While many leaders were focusing on managing conflict, I learned to manage agreement. What separated this person from the pack? Honesty. This person was honest. The best of the best leaders aren't afraid to speak up and offer a counter narrative. Or repeatedly ask, What if....? I describe this leader as a transformative activist. A person of extraordinary prescience, and knowledge of things others can't begin or even to imagine to perceive. While we were firmly situated in the present, we idealized a transformed future. A future that became a reality.
My skill set has been shaped by a variety of leaders I've learned from, either as my supervisor or as a subordinate or colleague. Vertical or horizontal. It hasn't mattered to me. What matters is leadership.
I've grown when I've been challenged. I've grown when I've been pressed to defend my decisions. I continue to grow everyday. Growth is my inspiration. Thank you to all of my colleagues who have been the smartest persons in the room all these years. Whether I was teaching a cohort of education leaders working on their doctorate or leading my school-level or district-level team, the people and persons who made me better are those I appreciate most.
Thank you. You know who you are.