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Monday, August 29, 2016

Looking Inside

Noted psychologist Abraham Maslow is best known for his research on what he referred to as a hierarchy of needs among humans. Wikipedia explains this theory: "Maslow described human needs as ordered in a prepotent hierarchy—a pressing need would need to be mostly satisfied before someone would give their attention to the next highest need." 

The ultimate level of satisfied needs is reached and satisfied when an individual meets their potential and is considered "self-actualized." Maslow later suggested that a person who becomes self-actualized is not necessarily someone who has been the recipient of qualities added along their path in life, but rather someone who has been free of obstructions and has not had qualities taken away.

My lengthy career as a school leader leads me to suspect the staff of a school has a similar, collective arc. That is, for a staff to meet their potential as a team, they must not depend on someone or something contributing additional resources to their effort. Instead, their progress is aided by the absence of interventions that sap their energy, distract their vision of a preferred future, and misdirect their route to reaching their mission.

As the principal of Molly Stark Elementary School I adopt the manner depicted by the Wizard of Oz at the end of that famous film. No, not the part whereby the Wizard projects himself as a larger than life figure with mystical powers. I fashion myself the type of leader he reveals himself to be when confronted by the disappointed travelers who yearned to reach the Emerald City and obtain the ability for Dorothy to return to her native Kansas. It was when the Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Dorothy reacted with anger at discovering that the Wizard was in fact a simple, ordinary man who had enlarged his status and power, misleading them into undertaking an arduous journey beset by wicked witches and flying monkeys - all for nothing!

That's when the Wizard revealed his true power - a power we all have. The power of insight, empathy, optimism, and belief. At that critical point in the story, the Wizard explains how the Lion, who was searching for courage in his quest on the Yellow Brick Road, had possessed that attribute all along, and demonstrated it when he fought off the threats of the flying monkeys. The Tin Man, looking for a heart, had also displayed evidence that he already had a heart, and exhibited it when he committed to helping the lost Dorothy seek her way home. The Scarecrow joined the group, convinced he had no brain but the Wizard explained how the Scarecrow already had a brain and proved it when he helped outwit the Wicked Witch. And Dorothy? Well, she already had her ticket home in the form of the ruby red slippers she wore on her feet the entire trip. All she needed to do was click the shoes together.

The Wizard performed one of the most valuable of leadership skills when he helped others see what qualities they already possessed. He didn't have to add anything to the growth of individuals to help them reach their potential. They were not dependent on him to imbue them with additional skills or knowledge in order to meet their goals. They just needed someone to hold a mirror up to them and reveal the existence of their potential. With that, it was amazing how ordinary people working together could perform at extraordinary levels.

That's my task at Molly Stark Elementary School. It is a charge that I have accepted at each leadership position throughout a career that approaches forty years of experience as either a principal or superintendent. It's a responsibility I embrace because of the satisfaction gained while observing people discover their identity and optimize their capacity. It's a rewarding journey.     

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