Wisdom in the Dirt
Leaders are gardeners. I've probably said it before in this incredibly irregular blog. I was reading somewhere about how positive change is built on a foundation of trust. I'd like to slightly alter the metaphor - trust is the soil out of which the fruits of our creativity flourish. Just like in a classroom, where our goal is to support the growth and vitality of students in community, the fruits of our efforts are not engineered - they are grown. These are natural processes born out of the design of the Creator. Leaders are not more valuable than any part of the organizations or communities they lead - but they are important! Good leaders cultivate the natural energies, talents, desires, and dreams of those they lead. In Catholic schools, this should be even more true. We in Catholic education recognize the inherent dignity of each of our students, staff, faculty, and families - but beyond that we should recognize the value of the gifts granted each of them by God. The gift of leadership, like teaching, like coaching, lies in identifying these gifts and creating structures that allow them to bear fruits.
A good gardener does not attempt to force the growth of plants, but encourages the natural energies of these plants according to their unique character. Vines grow best when they have a structure to climb on - so we give them trellises. Carrots don't reach their full potential when they are planted too close together, so we give them space. Beans, squash, and corn compliment each other's needs and mutually flourish in each other's presence. So too with leadership.
If your staff doesn't have the capacity to use a new system yet - give them time, training, and ownership. If your teachers are struggling with classroom management, give them an ear to vent to and skills to support their confidence. If your families feel unheard - give them a path to you that is unimpeded and welcoming. If your meetings keep running the same loop and your staff are disengaged - reimagine them. If some sour talk is dominating your staff dialogue, like vines choking out seedlings, redirect the vines, and place the seedlings in a place where they can grow. It is the role of leaders to "have their ear to the ground" and understand what these needs are.
My father-in-law gave me this bit of wisdom about gardening "work with what the garden gives you". There is beauty in what you have, leader, but it is up to you to see that beauty and help it realize itself. The leader's role is not to lament the absent, but celebrate the present and encourage it to become even more itself. In the absence of a gardener, the garden will cease to thrive in it's best way. So too with leadership.
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