My oldest son had (minor) surgery this week to fix a metacarpal that had been broken by an errant baseball from a pitching machine. We had a choice to make – the doctor could manipulate it with her hands, put a plaster cast on it and “hope” that it set properly, with the possibility we would have to re-break it later; or we could bite the bullet, and opt for a quick procedure where the doctor would put pins to keep the bone in place to ensure it healed properly. Without thinking we opted for surgery – let’s make sure it is done right and that it sticks, even if that meant more pain at the outset. His number one goal is to get back out on the baseball field and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there quickly.
As I was contemplating this choice, I began to think of education (of course – I know we ALL do it), and how this type of choice related to my job as a leader. There are some decisions we make that model more the first choice. We see something broken, and little by little we fix it, massaging it here, sticking a band-aid on there, and eventually whatever it is settles into place, maybe not perfectly, but close enough.
And then there are other decisions we have to make, where the goal is immediate and clear and where getting it right really matters. Those are the decisions where the course of action might be painful and carry a higher risk to those involved. As leaders we can make those decisions and work with everyone involved to make the pain as low as possible, but because of the high stakes – learning for ALL students – we know we sometimes have to endure the pain to ensure we’re doing what’s best for kids.
Obviously school leadership is not quite the same as a broken bone. There are many more people involved at every level and at every step. As people who chose to go into the helping profession of teaching or counseling, making hard decisions that cause pain to those we care about can be difficult. But sometimes causing minor pain in the short term sets the systems up properly to support long-term gains in very important goals.
So when you’re making a tough decision in whatever area of leadership you find yourself in, ask yourselves – is a cast good enough, or does this situation require surgery?