As school leaders, we often talk about how we build leadership capacity within our staff. On my campus, I am fortunate to lead through five practices that Kouzes and Posner (1987) discuss as critical to building a culture of trust: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. Through these practices, we cultivate a solutions-oriented culture built on a foundation of strong relationships and trust. During a time of crisis, however, we can easily put these practices on the back burner if we aren't careful to consider how to continue to build capacity at a time when it might just matter most.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, Robert Glazer discusses four types of capacity building that can help cultivate strong leadership during a time of crisis. While we watch many politicians and educational leaders cast blame and model arrogant aplomb in the face of the unknown, leaders who tend to excel, such as Governor Cuomo of New York, are taking personal accountability and focusing on supporting their constituents in need. While continuing to face uncertainty, strong leaders are dedicated to communicating complex information with as much clarity as they can muster in order to be a source of stability in light of the unknown.
So, how do we continue to build capacity in the face of change? Let's explore the four types of capacity, and what this might look like from both a personal and professional standpoint as we enter (virtual) school again this fall.
While continuing to face uncertainty, strong leaders are dedicated to communicating complex information with as much clarity as they can muster in order to be a source of stability in light of the unknown.
Four Types of Capacity
Spiritual capacity is about who you are and what you stand for at your core. In a company, we often refer to this as our core values, and our vision/mission. We most often tend to consider our spiritual capacity in long-term goal-setting, which is why we can unconsciously leave this type of capacity-building behind when faced with a crisis. However, if considered, our spiritual capacity can be utilized to inform short-term changes and in determining how to do the next right thing.
Let's look at an example. This past spring, schools faced several challenges, starting with the rapid closing of doors and a swift transition to online learning. The COVID-19 pandemic was perpetuated by racial injustice and a political climate that quickly became chaotic at best. In the face of these crises, our leadership team swiftly determined that, per our vision and mission statements, we had two main priorities: to teach at the same high levels we have always held ourselves accountable to teaching, and to create an inclusive learning environment where all students feel accepted and safe. These would be our two main focal points when we returned to school in the fall, and every professional development session we would hold would explicitly align to one of those two priorities, in further alignment with our vision, "every child, every day, prepared to meet life's challenges."
Intellectual capacity is our ability to learn, grow, and improve in a myriad of ways. It can include our ability to think, plan, and execute in a world that is rapidly changing. In times of uncertainty, the growth aspect of intellectual capacity is at the forefront of our minds. What information are we lacking in this decision-making process? How can we find out that which we currently do not know?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of information being presented to school leaders in a highly fluid situation. We didn't have a lot of answers, but we did know that plans had to be made. Thus, we gathered the information that we had, and jotted down questions that remained unanswered after deciphering new executive orders as a leadership team. We then rallied our resource team, including charter board representatives and our trusted attorney coalition. We collaborated alongside other schools. We were transparent about what we knew with our staff, and what information we were hoping to further clarify. Consequently, we were regarded as trustworthy and transparent during a time when many parents and teachers were struggling to grapple with the unknown.
As we continue to learn and grow this year in our knowledge regarding anti-racism classroom practices, we are also openly modeling what it means to start where we are as individuals in this journey. There are things that we know, and there are certainly things we do not. We recognize that "your pace is your pace," and we aren't afraid to share this fact openly with our staff. As long as we are committed to learning and continual growth, we are moving in the right direction. That should be modeled for all constituents within our organizations, and for all parties within our individual homes. We have a lot of influence in this arena. Remember, our students and children often learn more by what is caught than by what is taught. This is building intellectual capacity at its finest.
The third type of capacity we must consider building in times of crisis is our physical capacity to lead. This encompasses not only our physical health, but our mental well-being as well. As we all know, what we eat, how we sleep, and how often we move and shut down all influence our ability to perform well as leaders. Creating healthy daily rhythms and routines can support our optimal performance at both the physical and mental levels of our health.
One way that I have found to optimally perform throughout my day is by performing a morning startup ritual presented by Hal Elrod in his book The Miracle Morning. In just a few short sessions, this sequence of mindfulness and physical activity can change the course of your entire day. Operating through the acronym S.A.V.E.R.S., Hal takes us on a journey of silence, affirmations, visualizations, exercise, reading and scribing, or writing. Feel free to check out a few of my previous posts for more information about the transformative nature of this work.
Finally, we come to emotional capacity. In a crisis, this capacity is our ability to respond to changing information rather than to react. It encompasses our mindset as well as the quality of relationships with those around us. During times of crisis, it is often through one's emotional capacity that we see stress manifest itself. It is someone acting out more erratically than usual, becoming teary during normal communication, or responding to others in a way that seems abrupt or unkind. As you can imagine, lack of sleep, poor physical health, and a lack of direction can all adversely impact our emotional capacity during a crisis. If we can learn to "honor the pause" and practice deep breathing or a moment of meditation or solitude before we react in a crisis, we can better attend to those who need to see us with poise and competence, operating at our best.
Strong leaders, despite the overwhelmedness of rapid and unanticipated change, can hone in on these four types of capacities in a crisis in order to navigate periods of stress more optimally at both a personal and professional level. Sitting down and assessing one's spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional capacities can pave the way towards more informed and manageable outcomes not only for the leader, but consequently for his/her constituents as well. Where are some areas that you can focus on, both personally and professionally, to better support your team and your own well-being moving forward? In what areas might you need to grow?