Once upon a time, I was a first time Principal of a small struggling school. I hired a young, novice teacher and she was amazing. I loved her creativity, and the way the students learned to think in her class. She inspired me and energized the whole faculty. And then a few weeks before the end of the school year, her father passed away—suddenly. She took the call in our school office. It was a devastating blow. It broke my heart as I put her into a car that would take her home to her family. I went to visit her while she was sitting shiva1. And then I got it wrong.We had no bereavement policy. I never talked to her about her plans. With the end of year approaching, I simply assumed she would not be returning to school. I took her off the payroll! I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t the right thing to do and I ignored it. And she came back. And there was some eleventh hour scrambling. It all worked out in the end.
What did I learn?
- Never make assumptions. Have the uncomfortable conversations.
- Don’t make unilateral decisions when you have no idea what you are doing and don’t be afraid to look stupid. Check in with the people who may have a perspective you simply lack.
- Being fiscally responsible doesn’t mean checking your humanity at the door.
Why do I not only remember but literally cherish this story of my humiliating error?
It reminds me that I can only lead when I am honest with myself and others about my blind spots. It helps me to value all my relationships because it is in relationship that we see our failings as well as our potential mirrored back to us.
I believe in our collective resilience.
I believe in the transformative power of saying, I’m sorry. I made a mistake.
I believe in feeling the pain when I mess up.
I believe in forgiving myself for being human.
I believe in taking responsibility for making new choices.
Your turn. Dig out the old humiliating stories and start telling them. Cherish them for who they have allowed you to become.