By: Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Executive Director
I wish there was a way to make it easy to be a new leader in a school.
But there is not.
There is too much to learn. The culture, the people, the systems… This statement doesn’t even factor in the particular challenge first time leaders face as they try to overcome their fears and lack of experience.
I wish coaching was enough.
But it isn’t.
I wish there wasn’t a leadership crisis.
But alas, the reality is that most of our leaders are put into situations without someone who will steward their growth and champion their learning. Most of our young leaders have to fend for themselves and, even when told that the lay community knows there is a learning curve, are made to feel like they are disappointing those who are waiting for the school to be impacted by the leader.
And it is not good.
It does not work.
It is why it takes time for a new leader to feel like things are in sync. And sadly, it is why there is a leadership crisis. Schools who do not give a leader a chance, who do not foster their growth, who do not champion their process, give up before the magic actually happens. They have a hard time forgiving the early mistakes and lose trust. That leads to a vicious cycle of the leader feeling unloved, unwanted, and unsupported, which leads to more mistakes.
That is why, above all, I wish we could all work for a master leader before becoming one ourselves.
By master leader, I don’t mean someone with a great reputation. I mean someone who understands that leadership is not innate; it can be learned.
Someone who is willing to teach the art of leadership and open his or her practice by speaking transparently about decision making and their vision, about bringing vision to reality, about relationships.
Someone who is open to discussing what happens when things don’t work well and what happens when they do.
Someone who isn't afraid to share what happens when there are gaps in perception and reality.
Someone who knows exactly what happens when people think something is good and you, in your gut, know that it is not.
Someone who can provide guidance when leaders are accused of not caring or caring too much.
Someone who can help leaders overcome the inevitable feeling that their stakeholders do not understand their personalities and make them feel like they are not smart enough.
Down to earth enough.
(Dr. Brené Brown refers to the above list as scarcities. There are so many that often get in the way and we all have them.)
A master leader can help us understand that even they have those areas that they feel less than, but this is what they do to work through it.
Today this is my wish, but I know it can exist in our field in the future.
What can we do to create fertile ground for leaders to learn?
At YUSP, we feel a responsibility towards opening this conversation to the field and really exploring it.
We have to treat leaders like we want our students to be taught - with patience, love, and a sense that each leader has unlimited potential.
We have to spread the understanding that growth mindset has to be taught and has to permeate the professional and lay leadership.
We have to create learning environments for mentorship and coaching.
We have to develop a sense of sharing.
If we are going to make our day schools better, we have to be in this together, whether it is for our own schools or for the field as a whole. We also have to find the funding to send lay people to those trainings and give them the support they need.
We can do this. We have to do this. There is so much literature about the leadership shortages in the Jewish not-for-profit world. We have to make every effort to retain the leaders we have and help them grow. Yes, this shift will take bravery, boldness, and immense collaboration, but it is far from wishful thinking.
Jane Taubenfeld Cohen is the Executive Director at the YU School Partnership. Prior to joining YUSP, she was the Head of School at the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School for twenty-two years, where she was one of the founders. In addition, Jane has been a mentor for 8 years at the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) and she now works with alumni and as a mentor to new Heads of School. Jane can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.