Upper School discussion in classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

One of the highpoints of the fall for me is spending time with our senior class talking about leadership. In a series of four seminars, I walk with them through various leadership theories as well as several definitions and metaphors. One of my favorite leadership metaphors is one I learned from a mentor many years ago.

“Leadership is being in the middle of the herd moving it roughly westward.”

I share it with them at the end of the second session and ask them to think about what it means, how it applies to leadership, and come prepared to our next meeting to discuss. The ensuing conversation is often rather lively and as we unpack the metaphor and it yields many very different interpretations:

  • Leaders who are too far out in front of the herd may realize too late that they are alone, having forgotten to bring others along with them.
  • Sometimes a leader needs to be out front to chart a bold and new path.
  • If a leader is at the tail end, the herd lacks direction. On the other hand, sometimes a leader needs to step back in order to consider lay of the land and craft a broader vision.
  • Those who lead from the middle are often better in touch with other members of the herd and can nudge them forward in a common direction.
  • Leaders in the middle can push and pull from within, depending on what is needed. They help others feel valued as a part of the solution as the team moves ahead.
  • When consensus and buy-in are required for the success of the project, leading from the middle may be best.
  • From time to time, a leader does need to pull back, trust in the team, in order to consider the whole to refine a vision, and allow others a chance to take the lead.

I’ve learned firsthand that leadership in today’s VUCA world, requires adaptability, responsiveness, and resilience (VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). As I reflect over the last 10 months, leadership in this climate has required a degree of agility unlike any other time in my career and has compelled me to be in the middle, back, and front of the herd at various times—sometimes all at the same time.

As I look ahead to the 2021-2022 school year, I am hoping for less volatility and a little bit more certainty, but anticipate complexity and ambiguity to be the norm. Clear direction and a set of strategic priorities are needed in a post-pandemic VUCA world. By intentionally engaging in reflection to distill key learnings from our experiences during the pandemic, the Board of Trustees and the Administrative Team have identified the following strategic priorities that will drive ongoing improvement and institutional growth:

  1. Create custom and personalized pathways of learning for students through curricular innovation and by leveraging advances in educational technology.
  2. Deepen our commitment to diversity, equity, and belonging and ensure it is reflected in the life, culture and of the MPA community and in our policies, programs, and practices.
  3. Affirm and inspire our exceptional and dedicated faculty and staff through competitive compensation.
  4. Enhance institutional capacity by continuing to strengthen financial sustainability.

These priorities will drive the allocation of time and resources in the year ahead. For instance, a new position has been created to provide strategic leadership, guidance, and support for widespread integration of and accountability for diversity, equity, and belonging. MPA aspires to be inclusive of racial diversity, socio-economic diversity, gender identity and equality, and religious understanding, and the new Director of Equity and Belonging will lead and collaborate on initiatives built to continue fostering an environment where all are embraced, valued, and truly belong. Look for a formal posting in the coming days and more details in a future Panther Post.

Our exceptional faculty and staff have proven their dedication and commitment time and time again during the pandemic. They continue to reimagine and innovate teaching and learning on a daily basis to advance learning and keep students safe. Given the increasingly accelerated evolution of the teaching profession and the escalating demands placed upon teachers, the success of our students and school hinges on our ability of the school to attract, retain, and reward faculty and staff. Now is the time to prioritize their compensation.

Empowering our students to live, learn, and thrive in today’s world requires innovation that is grounded in our mission, values, and tradition in a community that makes room for, and honors, diverse perspectives. Leading a herd roughly westward in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity is unsustainable without the engagement of everyone in the MPA community. As we move through this crisis, we emerge stronger, more resilient, and better able to take on new challenges and capitalize on new opportunities in the years to come.

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