Vulnerability as a Strength in School Leadership

There may exist an old-school conception that educational leaders should not show vulnerability as it may display weakness, which could undermine one’s authority.  Think of Morgan Freeman’s first speech to his faculty as a new High School Principal in Lean on Me when he shouts ‘no one talks in my meetings, no one!’   This is a great movie, but times have changed in school leadership.  With the increase of desired traits such as emotional intelligence, self-awareness, transparency and authenticity, vulnerability may now be viewed not only as a strength but as a necessity.

This idea is succinctly reinforced in an article from Forbes: “Every leader has vulnerability. The greatest leaders have the self-awareness to recognize this fact. They also recognize that showing their vulnerability is a sign of courage and strength.”

The question that remains is when are appropriate times for a leader show vulnerability?  A short answer: To make those ever-important human connections.  Human connections between school leaders and teachers often gets pushed aside or ignored as we are consumed with results, paper work, deadlines, evaluations and testing.  Of course all of these are important for making a school run, but behind all of these processes are people.

This is summed up by this quote from Harvard Business Review: “Why is human connection missing at work? As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This stereotype is changing however and is one reason why AI may not be able to replace a strong/vulnerable leader: because AI cannot empathize as meaningfully or effectively as humans.  Ironically, AI’s weak spot may be that it doesn’t show weakness.  In the end, in education, we are humans working with other humans, none of us are perfect, all of us have weaknesses and all of us deserve forgiveness.  Taken from the same Harvard Business Review article : “Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error but rather a patient encouragement of growth.”  A strong educational leader not only recognizes their vulnerabilities, but forgives all stakeholders including themselves for the mistakes and shortcomings that come with being human while at the same time maintaining high expectations.  We are not perfect, but we can always work to be better, including our ability to show strength through vulnerability.

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