April 18, 2018
Leadership can be taught. I share this for a couple of reasons. First, I want to help each student at Taft develop their leadership potential. Second, developing that potential requires students to look at their own behavior and be willing to make adjustments. Learning to lead can often be a rather difficult challenge.
At Taft, we define leadership as, “choosing to act with empathy, integrity, and courage to help one’s group achieve its goals.” Leading is about action, not position. Still, like many schools, Taft students arrive in leadership positions through a variety of processes and some might argue that Taft does have ideas that leadership is about position. I want to do what I can to demonstrate that each student, regardless of position, can put themselves - should put themselves - in a position to take on the challenge and learning opportunity of leading at Taft.
Leadership is full of risk. Ron Heifetz of Harvard has a wonderful quote about leaders failing those they aim to lead at a rate the group can absorb. This is to say that leadership is not about scaling great heights. Instead, it is about navigating the complexity of competing interests and helping the group continue, in spite of differences of opinion or perspective, to achieve the goals set by the group. Lao Tzu said it best, “A leader is best when people barely know [the leader] exists, when [the leader’s] work is done, [the] aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
I share this because I hope that each student will take the risk of attempting to lead and will know that I and many others at Taft stand ready to support their work. These attempts at leadership can be as small as gathering a group for an activity to as large as working on a community wide or global challenge. Once the student has selected a place to lead, the student needs to gather a group and begin the work of achieving the stated purpose or goal of the group. Rarely does such an experience have a script and our students need to be comfortable with the discomfort that comes with leading and with getting feedback from members of the group.
In my time at Taft, I know that we help our students do this difficult work. How we provide that aid is not always overt and may, at times, actually result in frustration. Still, I love to see our students' willingness to learn as they lead and we are all better for it. In your conversations with your child, ask them how they might want to lead and what they will need to do to realize the goals for their group.
As ever, if you have feedback or thoughts about this, I appreciate them. Enjoy today and let’s hope the month of May makes up for the terrible weather of April!
All the best,