It is not uncommon for school leaders to be sabotaged by parents, students, teachers and board members. In fact, it is inevitable if someone really leads. People in the school community sabotage their leaders for a variety of reasons, from the small to the serious. Sabotage by Board members or Board members is the most dangerous sabotage for all school leaders.
Speaking of shortsightedness
I once jokingly suggested in a board meeting during Fannie Mae’s financial crisis that we should consider getting some accounting advice from Fannie Mae. I think our Treasurer, an employee of Fannie Mae, will accept my comments in jokes that are well addressed. God knows, the conversation needs to be lightened up a bit. Sadly, he felt offended and would not accept my apologies. In the following months, he sabotaged my leadership, Finance Committee meetings, and Board decisions with devastating results for the school and education of our students.
As I reflect on that period of time and the destructive behavior of my Treasurer, I realize that I or my Council Speaker must take action to overcome sabotage. In fact, we must work together collaboratively to stop it immediately.
Frankly, I just don’t know what to do
The situation is very complex. Politics on the board is brutal. I feel that I cannot discuss it with my Council Speaker, given the close relationship between him and the Treasurer. Basically, a rogue board member acts with impunity because of his personal relationship with the Chairperson of the Board.
Hindsight is better than foresight.
I realize now that I can take constructive action to overcome sabotage. Actually, the knowledge and ability to take the necessary actions is within me. I can’t access it. I don’t need someone to teach, train or advise me. I need someone to talk to in secret, to acknowledge my strengths and pain, to ask the right questions and to help me strategize about the best way to deal with the problem.
That’s what professional coaches do
That’s what I do now as a leadership coach. I help school leaders find ways to deal with difficult and sensitive issues successfully in their schools. As the Irish proverb says, “The waves have mercy, at least, but stones have no mercy at all.” There is no shortage of strong winds and waves crashing on the high seas of the school leadership.
Get a coach to help you sail your ship! As Edwin Friedman wrote in “Nerve Failure: Leadership in the Age of Quick Repair”, dealing skillfully with sabotage “is perhaps the most important aspect of leadership. This is literally the key to empire.”