Who do you want me to be?

“Who do you want me to be?”

That’s what my oldest daughter asked me today. It was a question that came during a heated discussion.

“Just tell me and I’ll do it!”

Each of us has had those moments when we wish someone would just tell us how to act or what to do so we could do it and avoid the difficult journey in discovering for ourselves who we are. As an educational leader and school administrator, I’ve had a few moments like that over the years. “If someone would just tell me, I’d do.” I’ve thought during a few rough periods. Unfortunately, there are many different ideas of what that would be and there is no way to be everything for everyone. Instead, as a leader it becomes necessary for one to be able to reflect on who we are and what it is that motivates us to be in that position.

Now, there are many different ideas of what a leader should be like and how they should act. My experience is that no one can be all things so we must be willing to accept that we have strengths and weaknesses and then go about using our strengths in ways that build community and looking for others within who have strengths in our areas of weakness, supporting them and allowing them to use their strengths in growing the community. To ignore our weaknesses or, worse yet, pretending they aren’t weaknesses, is detrimental to everyone, including oneself.

One of my biggest struggles is deciding where exactly my strengths lay and then using them. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t a great teacher, good but not great. However, I’ve worked with great teachers, those who have the knack and ability to walk along with the students and helping them to grow and learn, knowing when to step out and lead and knowing when to fade to the back and let the students lead themselves in their own pursuit of knowledge. Now, as an administrator, I’ve continued to grow and become better at what I do, accepting that there are areas that I need to improve while understanding that I will not be great in all areas and searching out those around me who have the necessary skills and abilities to lead in various ways as we build our community, supporting them in what they do.

Today, when my daughter said this, I could have told her that if she did this and that, it would be what I wanted. That, however, would caused all sorts of problems. With a house of 7 children, there are all kinds of strengths but not one child has all things. I told her she needed to be herself and, at 15, that’s a pretty tough thing to do. It didn’t make her happy but that’s a whole other discussion. It did make me reflect, however, on how I interact with my children and, in a different way, how I interact with everyone with whom I come into contact especially at school.

During this past week as many different situations were played out, there were times I wanted someone to give me the easy out and just tell me which direction to go. That didn’t happen. Instead, I had to reflect on what I do well and then, with this reflection, seek out others in the school who had the skills that were needed. It took time to do this which, I have learned, is well worth it as it avoids having to deal with the fallout from trying to do things which I are not in my areas of strength. I don’t always do this, which is why I have more gray hair than I had when I started in the administrator’s position but I have become much better at taking the time to decide if it were better for another person to be involved.

Leading, like parenting, doesn’t come with a How To manual. What works with one will not always work with another but a shotgun approach to leading doesn’t work either. Instead, it is necessary for those of us who lead to be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and then, when needed, seek others who have strengths and support them. Many parents and teachers think that, because I am the principal, I have all the answers and find it surprising when I tell them that I don’t. I do assure them, though, that I will support them and help them to find the resources so that they can develop themselves in whatever ways they need.

As a father of girls who are 15, 14, 12 & 10, I know that I don’t have all the answers nor do I know it all and there are times when I would like someone to tell ME what to do just as my 15 year old wanted this morning. It doesn’t work like that no matter how much we wish for it. Instead, I did what I do at school, I went to someone who has strengths in those areas that I don’t. I now wondering if I should have just faked it and boldly struck on but I’m sure my wife will talk to me sometime this week;)

Leading is more than just being the person at the top. It is learning how to see the strengths of those around you and turn to them when you know that they will do a much better job than you will but being responsible, no matter what, for the final outcome because, like it or not, you are the leader.


  1. Reply

    Thanks for the window into your household. I’ve been in your 15 year olds shoes. My kids are still young enough that we haven’t been there yet. Still the connections you make to school make me think about what it means to tell my students how to behave in my classroom. We are struggling with what it means to be happy and productive. Some of them are experts at being happy, some at being productive, some at neither. I want to tell them what I want them to do, but better yet, I want them to figure it out for themselves. I struggle with the best way forward. We’ll see what happens.

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