Not since the middle of the last century with the outbreak of Polio has there been such a time as this. Not even the AIDS epidemic, nor the more recent pandemics have caused such universal distress. This COVID enemy is uncontrollable and ruthless. We can use everything we know to try to fight it, yet our experience tells us there are people who will rebuff our attempts. There are those who refuse to wear masks or keep their distance. Young people congregate in masses and we are at a loss to stop them. Yet, these actions put others at risk. It can seem as though the forces against a safe and successful path forward are unstoppable.
On top of our professional responsibilities, we have our students, parents, and colleagues, as well as ourselves and our family members to take care of. And that too can feel like an endless and overwhelming task.
So, what’s the answer? In truth, there isn’t one single proven answer at this time. But we can adopt a helpful frame of mind: Suit up and be vulnerable.
These two actions, on their face, may seem like opposing things. They’re not. In fact, they are two powerful elements of successful leadership, especially in times like these.
Some days we need to suit up with a formal suit that says “leader,” other days with the team uniform. But every day we need to be ready to do what’s in the best interest of our organizations and the people we are charged to keep learning and stay safe.
When we “suit up” we actually start to prepare ourselves to win—mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and not merely endure our circumstances. Suiting up mentally also helps us reach inside and activate and draw upon core principles, knowledge, skills, and other strengths we possess. In our case, the battle is about preparing this generation of students for their future. It’s about keeping students and their teachers and support staff safe—so that they have a future. It’s about feeding those students who wouldn’t have two meals a day without our efforts. It’s about making sure every student and every staff member feels seen and heard—and so much more. It’s a tall order. But it’s what we got into this profession to do. If we don’t suit up with the positive intent and passion for nurturing and protecting young people every day —we won’t win the battle.
In the absence of easy answers, our real strength, perhaps even our super-power, is to lean into our vulnerability—another keen aspect of our human reality. We do not have to behave as though we have all the answers. We can give others space and encouragement to reflect, imagine, and propose answers to the challenges we face without abandoning our leadership or devaluing our strengths. When we access our vulnerability, the barriers that divide us and arouse our fears begin to crumble and we open ourselves up to the ideas of many others who come to our aide and can help us solve the problems that confront us. Ironically, when we do, it motivates both us and them. We also put ourselves in a position to learn. And it is this mindset of learning that will propel us and our mission forward in new and more productive ways. In truth, all of us are feeling incredibly vulnerable now—because we are. It isn’t a weakness. It’s simply a condition—and one that we can use to unite us rather than divide us.
The path before us will not be easy. But know that in actuality, we may experience our biggest victories now. There certainly has never been a time when our leadership was needed more. We won’t get the answers we seek every day, but if we stay alert, suit up, and stay vulnerable, solutions will appear.