The last two and a half years have taught me innumerable lessons, but if I had to choose just one that I would define as the most valuable and affirming, it would be the importance of leading with humility.
What do I mean by leading with humility? In my opinion, it is a sincere way of being that includes the following ideas:
- there is no “I” in success – triumphs are not mine, they are ours;
- seek, receive and use feedback – We don’t know it all,
- own mistakes – be comfortable with being human
Triumphs are not mine – they are ours
It would be tough to find someone in the international school community who does not know about the extremely challenging period that our school has experienced. To have faced what the school has encountered and be stronger than ever is a testament to the resiliency of our community and the Dragon spirit that lives in and around us.
We are by no means triumphant yet, as a matter of fact, seven human beings remain in jail for crimes they did not commit, an atrocity that cannot be ignored and, with which we live each and every day. But as a school, we have survived a large number of obstacles that were thrown our way in a highly opportunistic fashion. We have done so because we have worked together, as a team remaining focused on our mission and vision, our purpose for existing. Without the foundational mission driven work our team had done in years prior, we would not have had the platform on which to rally and support our daily work.
Together we have faced the challenge, together we have given our hearts to teaching, leading and learning.
Seeking, receiving and using feedback. We don’t know it all
Building relationships is so critical in the world of leadership, teaching and learning. When the going gets tough (and even when it does not), we must embrace the idea that we do not know it all, and that those with whom we have nurtured trusting relationships can be our greatest resource.
In our situation, we continue to count on the support of numerous friends, colleagues, and experts to help us navigate these challenging times. We are guests in a foreign country and we must seek feedback from those who know our context better than we do, before we take action. Knowing the local context, the moving pieces, the forces at work, and the people who can be supportive is crucial to our success.
Most of us have been re-acquainted with trauma, or faced it for the first time in our lives, and in both cases, we have had to rely on others to learn how to support ourselves, how to cope, and how to continue to march on, in spite of the challenges faced. This is particularly true and critical, when one is leading at a time of emotional duress, when our people are suffering injustice and those who show up to work each day, carry that emotional weight on their shoulders.
Owning mistakes – being comfortable with being human
As leaders, we make choices. At best, the choices are well intended, well informed, collaboratively researched and decided upon with clarity of mind and spirit. But let’s face it. We are human. And we may fail. When that happens, we must be reflective enough to recognize a failure and learn from it.
In the context of our crisis, many of us underestimated the prolonged shelf life that the false accusations would have. We were thinking rationally and assuming that no one who knew us, knew our school, would believe, for more than a minute, that the accusations could be true. Perhaps we relied on a false sense of security, and thought that our international reputation would be equal to the local narrative. We were naive.
Our work now has us reaching out deep and wide outside our school walls to share our story, to begin to shift the wrongly assumed perception of who we are as a school. We know we cannot operate in isolation and that we are indeed a part of a much bigger whole. It really does not matter how good we are, how much we have been contributing to the local and international community, unless we can communicate that with clarity and sincerity.
I have chosen to describe what leading with humility feels like to me, through the eyes of a traumatizing and still ongoing experience. This has been intentional as I have been grappling for some time with how to answer the question I am so frequently asked, “how have you all managed to lead through this?” In my opinion, the answer is simple, yet complex, but at its core is a deep sense of what it means to be humble.