Students this time of year often begin working on saint reports, studying the likes of Sts. Theresa, Rita, and Michael, among many others. The recent beatification of Bl. Carlo Acutis reminds us that individuals of this title. In the Catholic realm of heroes and heroines, saints are often misunderstood as an untouchable league of perfection of uncompromising virtue and valor; they’re not. They serve as imperfect models of perfect grace which should serve as a teaching moment to build habits of excellence. In turn, our goal as educators and parents is to prepare our youth for their ultimate reward: heaven.
At the same time some are working on these saint reports, others are drafting their response to the perennial academic dilemma and proverbial gateway to higher education: the college essay. You are subtly asked to be creative but not verbose; erudite but not simplistic; proud but not boastful; and all the while, be sure to tell the truth. Our societal push for students to get great grades to attend great schools so that they can have a great career feels like it starts earlier and earlier in life. Sure, values and morals are important to teach but high test scores are the real benchmark of one’s worthiness, right? Competitiveness may be its own virtue in American society, but the real struggle is within ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against being a high achiever; after all, I am one. And striving for moral and academic excellence are certainly not mutually exclusive goals. But the artificial pressure put on children to be scholars before saints can risk putting the emphasis on the wrong syll-A-ble. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and social alienation speak to this changing landscape. We need more people to strive for moral excellence but not confuse it with some ethereal plane of perfection.
Encourage children to major in relationships with a minor in friendship; build community with their peers; and be able to model better choices in a world that lacks models of virtue. In doing so, we will witness greater authenticity as a natural outgrowth of taking ownership for one’s actions. Getting into Harvard is easy compared to all that.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!
The new year brings a multitude of resolutions, commitments, and a sense of things starting anew. (For me personally and professionally, this means my Amazon book list continues to grow like a literary hydra!) with topics ranging from psychology and sociology to economics and theology. But in particular, leadership books intrigue me. As one of my colleagues liked to remark, “Reading a book on leadership is like reading about baseball: you have to do it!” In many ways, he’s right. To just read about leadership on its own can be a mental exercise in futility unless there is a connection between theory and praxis, concepts and action.
School leadership in particular can be complex given the web of curriculum, laws, policies, enrollment, and funding needs, among others. In parochial schools, the principal or headmaster is seen as a gatekeeper, one who oversees everything from facilities to staff to curriculum. Yet this idea does more of a disservice to the numerous individuals it takes to truly lead a school, to support its constituencies, and to engage in a shared vision for the future. It’s like the belief that only a quarterback or running back can win the Heisman Trophy: we tend to ignore the peripheries in life. There are so many individuals that contribute to success within a school setting that we have the tendency to limit the recognition needed to thrive. Only hubris allows for an individual to truly believe that success is accomplished in isolation.
In our #Twitterverse world, we can engage another tendency to make brevity the norm for explanations. Bumper stickers can be memorable, but they can’t allow for nuance. Then again, not everything needs a 300-page thesis to get the point across. So here’s my sticker:
Lead by stepping aside. Ensure people are cared for, foster organizational excitement, and embrace risk. Frame the vision, build ownership, and respect differences. Repeat.
Leadership is about action. It is about empowerment. It is about serving those you are responsible for first. It echoes what leadership and management expert Simon Sinek means by the phrase “leaders eating last.” In committing to this, we can move beyond catchphrases and grow closer to tangible results that place us closer to building the next generation of leaders.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!