Administrative Sandwich Theory
I’ve been having a tongue-in-cheek conversation recently with some of my fellow administrators about what the interview questions for prospective admins should really look like. I have a clear favorite for item #1:
How much s**t are you willing to eat to succeed in your goals?
Obviously, I’m joking here. But only kind of. Because I don’t know that people who haven’t been in formal leadership roles understand just how much of the s**t sandwich leaders have to eat to be successful.
Now before I get accused of being cynical, I want to make it clear that I don’t think that needing to take a bite or two from the sandwich to be a successful leader is a bad thing. It pretty much guarantees humility, and humility in leadership is a virtue. I’m not actually sure what leadership looks like when leaders try to coerce compliance with their initiatives through the force of their formal status alone, but I have a strong feeling that it’s ugly. Looking back on my own career as an administrator, I see a tremendous amount of asking for permission that I didn’t really need, apologizing for things that were pretty clearly not my fault, taking responsibility for things that were well outside of my control, and generally not relying on formal power structures to compel my staff to do the things that I wanted them to do. All of this is sandwich eating, and all of it is absolutely necessary if one is trying to be a halfway decent “leader.”
Actually, all of it is absolutely necessary if one is trying to be a halfway decent educator more generally. I’m going to guess that any teacher who reads this doesn’t see too much difference between the above as relates to my relationship with my staff and their own relationship with their students. But a big difference between being an administrator and a teacher is in the scope of the project. Teaching is, to me at least, pretty clearly more important work than being an administrator in the immediacy of its impact, but administration is vastly different in its scale. And as that scale increases, so does the amount of “responsibility”, which is really just code for the size of the sandwich on the plate in front of you.
Put plainly, I have never had to eat as much of the sandwich as I have over my time as an administrator. I’m not sure that every administrator realizes this, but I don’t think the successful ones remain unaware of it for long. And the ones that do stay unwilling to take big bites are probably the ones that no one wants to work with. Because if everyone around you is eating s*t, you probably should be, too.
This one either came across in the sprit it was intended or it landed like a lead balloon. Want to tell me which one it is for you? Drop me a line or leave a comment below if you have something to say.
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