We are deep in the process of looking for a new school leader. I am asking myself, as well as my school partners, which includes teachers, parents, students, and administrators, what are those important leadership qualities we want to see in our next Assistant Head of Curriculum and Instruction? How will we know when we see it?
In a recent school leadership team retreat, we explored the idea of “authentic leadership.” This exploration was prompted by the book that we read last summer by Brené Brown, entitled, “Dare to Lead, Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” She writes about this idea of authentic leadership, which she describes is about courage, self-awareness, and self-love. She argues that courage cannot exist without “rumbling” and “vulnerability.” An organization’s growth depends on our ability to work through the messiness of human relationships toward a common goal, and in our case, our mission.
The leadership team debated Brene Brown’s definition of authentic leadership. We explored the level of authenticity that we each practice in the way we lead. We asked ourselves questions like, “how open and honest are we in our conversations with each other, teachers, parents, and students about the way we engage and work at Fayerweather?” Some of us agreed that authentic leadership is bringing a modified version of ourselves forward, while others expressed feeling like it is nearly impossible to show up to work and be one’s authentic self.
I prefer Kevin Cashman’s definition (from his book: Leadership from the Inside Out), which captures the idea that authenticity is understanding who you are and having clarity about your strengths and challenges. According to Cashman, “Authenticity is the continuous process of building self-awareness of our whole person, as well as being transparent with others about our whole person, both strengths and limitations.” I love this definition because it captures the humanity in how we should lead. My core belief is that we are all leaders at Fayerweather. Authentic leaders create openings for listening and learning.
Cashman’s idea of authentic leadership is about not just being true to ourselves, but true to others. It carries a responsibility to give honest feedback, to be willing to support, ask questions, and to practice radical collaboration. This is where the rumbling comes in to focus, as we often fear the reactions from others when we show up as authentic leaders. It is a daily practice to move past our fears of failing, fears of people’s reactions, in order to work in the service of our students, and the greater good of the school.
I am continuously working to embrace my mix of strengths and limitations, and to listen and learn. This understanding allows me to bring empathy to my practice of authentic leadership. I am looking forward to finding that next authentic leader who will partner with us as we work to continue to improve the experience of community for our students and families at Fayerweather.