This post is adapted from Toni Faddis’s upcoming book,
The Ethical Line: 10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making
Under the watchful eyes of the public, today’s school principals face ever-changing demographics and an increasingly demanding workload. As school leaders, we are expected to be on top of our task list as well as be collaborative facilitators who help our communities understand policy and context, all while making sure our discussions are sensitive and inclusive of all individuals, regardless of any factors that may make them appear “different” to the mainstream population.
In other words, being a principal is no easy feat.
Unlike prior generations, today’s principals must have sensitive conversations with students, staff, and parents. These conversations often involve topics that were unheard of just a few short years ago.
Today, the ability to converse knowledgeably about highly-sensitive hot buttons like gender-neutral bathrooms, transgender sports inclusion, and school-day prayer times is a crucial skill. However, these topics could result in the presence of sticky ethical dilemmas triggered by vastly opposing views throughout the community. As the school’s leader, you must be ready to tactfully articulate and defend the position you stand for.
Which means you must know what you stand for.
The Ethical Line
As leaders, the decisions we make are guided by the combination of our personal code of ethics, our family values, our prior experiences, and the policies and laws governing our positions, our districts, and our schools. Together, all of these factors go into forming and defining an Ethical Line.
But that line that is not always easy to identify.
In this post, I’ll discuss two of the ten effective decision-making strategies I recommend in my upcoming book The Ethical Line: 10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making.
The first strategy will help you identify and reflect on the core values and leadership style that define your code of ethics. The second will offer specific approaches to unpacking the uncomfortable emotions brought about by the problems principals face on any given day.
Strategy 1: Identify and Model Your Core Values
There may come a time in your career when you feel conflicted because your personal values clash with the professional norms of your school or district. In fact, you may decide to actually challenge a rule because you believe it to be flawed or incongruent with your sense of fairness. When that time comes, how will you know whether the stand you take puts you on the side of right or wrong?
It helps to ask yourself a few pointed questions:
Who are you? What guides your decisions as a leader? What are you willing to stand for?
When exploring the answers to these questions, take the time to examine your defining values. Using the figure below, choose three values that you feel are cornerstones of your leadership style. (Feel free to add values if you don’t see any that resonate with you.)
Once you’ve identified the values that are most important to you, take note of why these three stood out. Is there a particular reason—a story, perhaps—or a long-held belief that resonates deep within you? How might you leverage these values in your daily discussions with colleagues, students, and the greater community?
As a leader, it’s important that you be able to succinctly articulate your leadership values, such that you are able to speak of them easily, infuse them into professional conversations, and lead based upon that awareness.
When you consistently communicate your values verbally and non-verbally, you stay true to yourself, and people take note of your character. The ability to name your core values—and lead in service of them—reinforces your credibility as a leader in your community.
Strategy 2: Be Curiously Introspective
Just as staying true to your ethical line is a crucial component of leading effectively, your ability to practice reflective leadership and consciously manage your mental state is essential to avoiding burnout. Being a principal isn’t easy, so it’s important to regularly take stock of how you’re feeling, both physically and mentally. Establishing support systems to improve your outlook during moments of uncertainty is important as you embark on this journey of getting to know yourself and what you stand for.
Stop mental chatter
In addition to surrounding yourself with the right external support system, you must also be in control of your internal dialogue.
The ability to press the pause button on negative thinking allows you to take a step back and devise a useful plan that leads to a win-win situation for everyone.
I developed a tool for leaders to use when dealing with extreme stresses like angry parents or unkind coworkers:Stop, Drop, and Roll. The concept is a twist on a familiar school chant, and the idea is to take control of your breathing, let go of your ego, and move on.
Leadership is who you are, not who you wish to be
Staying true to your ethical line and adhering to the best interests of all students demonstrates a higher standard of ethical behavior on your school campus. Don’t allow the demands of others, or the limitation of past practices, to distort your thinking when you engage in a complex challenge. Don’t be dissuaded by scarce resources, naysayers, or other constraints. With patience, insight, and flexible thinking, you’ll come to a well-reasoned conclusion about how to navigate every challenge you face.