This I Believe

Alan - Sandpoint, Idaho
Entered on February 9, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I Believe

I believe in the spider web school of management. I started my leadership career as a climber and skier looking for a way to get paid to be in the mountains. Eventually I became an Outward Bound instructor and worked my way through twenty years of being a trained wilderness guide, mostly for troubled teenagers. At first what it meant to be a leader was pretty simple. I walked out in front or kicked steps in the snow or tied in to the sharp end of the rope- the one that goes first. I took pride in the number of peaks that my students climbed, even if I had to drag them to the top.

As time went on my vision of what it meant to be a leader gradually expanded. I started by walking a few places back in line as we wandered through the wilderness. Sometimes I even walked at the back – letting the students choose the route. I took to disappearing- letting them know that I would be around to help but they had to find their own way to the next camp. It became less important to climb a lot of mountains and more important for my students to feel like they were the leaders. We spent more time talking and less time walking.

Later on when I became a school administrator, I began to spend more of my days in meetings and classrooms rather than snow caves. I started to see that people in meetings had some of the same leadership styles as trained wilderness guides. There were the leaders who saw themselves with a sword hacking a path for others to follow. There were others who tried to lead from behind, like a sheep dog rounding up the herd.

Eventually I hit on my own style of leading from the center- taking my stand in the middle of the web. For me the center of things is not a default position- a fallback because I really don’t care. For me the middle of things is where the action is; where the real work of making things happen takes place. I stand firmly in the center of my school, where all the webs that connect students, parents, teachers and administration run through me.

However, it is not enough to just stand there-that is a recipe for paralysis. You have to have a vision of where you are going and how to get there. As the principal of a public charter school I have all kinds of forces tugging on me. Sometimes I feel enmeshed in a web of demands and commitments, business, family and personal relationships all pulling from different directions. My working days can feel like everyone wants a piece of me and it is hard to remember that education is an idealistic business and that is why I got into it in the first place. I have to force myself to look outside the circle of demands, keep my eyes on a larger vision, hold on to this complex web of relationships and obligation and try to walk forward on the trail.