(To view this cartoon, click on it, then hit the back arrow to come back)
As a School District Superintendent and CEO I am faced with critical decisions all day every day. I love living on that edge, as I did when making big decisions as a principal and teacher, and as I still do in the wonderful collaboration that is called being a father and a husband. One thing I love about leadership is that if you are in thoughtful and respectful dialogue with all involved or affected, at almost every decision point you can consider options from a win-win perspective. Time and discourse are great allies in that quest. And Rushworth Kidder teaches us that even ethical challenges usually have some third option that incorporates the best of both sides of a dilemma. Research, practice, folklore and popular literature are full of examples of how and when this win-win attitude can prevail, whether faced with decisions about what to wear or what to do about global warming, and everything in between.
But . . . I am sorry to say that there is on exception. There is one place where this positive expectation takes a back seat, where you just can’t win. Yes, I am talking about snow days. There is no Snow Day 101 course in superintendent school (of course there is no such thing as superintendent school, but that gives me an idea for another post), but if there were the curriculum would be something like “make a decision, any decision, then wait by the phone and be prepared to hold it at arm’s length”. Or “pull up your blog or district website response form, but only after donning your emotional armour”. Why? Because you never seem to get it just right. Since you have to decide on the fate of buses and schools by 6:00 a.m. you are always at risk of the fickle changes of climate that come with living on the west coast. Guaranteed snow, with more to follow? Close the schools and watch the sun come out to melt everything away as you live through a snow day with no snow. Or, as happened to me very recently, trust that the snow will only accumulate to a maximum of five cm and stop falling by 9 a.m., tell people schools are open but to use caution getting there, and watch a system sock in to drop 30 cm of snow that falls sideways inside a wind child of -15. Okay, in that case, at least I changed the decision to schools being closed for a snow day, but doing that at 7:45 after saying “get there if you can” made me an indecisive person who disappointed one writer who expected more proactive leadership from the superintendent. But I’m not complaining. I get paid to make decisions, even wrong ones, and I expect to be reminded of that. That’s part of the edge of leadership that I love, being held accountable. Because most times, most of the people, even on a snow day that turns balmy or an in-session day that ends up being the blizzard o’ the decade, stay on side and understand that we just do the best we can with what we know when we know it. Not unlike any decision, in any domain, in work or in life.
And check this out! Rick Mercer’s rant on snow days.