Heartfelt leaders will inspire everyone else to endure this year and the next, and will cause them to be courageous as they take risks and do things newly.
The call to lead requires those who are willing to sail into uncharted waters. This particular moment calls for exquisite leaders, those who know the depth and breadth of the need, who have been gifted (or cursed) with a vision of what might be and who are inspired enough for others to follow by choice.
As a nation, Americans are a hopeful people. It comes from our roots and explains why immigrants still come here. We are the land of opportunity. Our schools are critically linked to this national identity. Schools create hopeful futures. Yes, our success is measured now by performance on tests but our work is the future. Policy makers fear that we have or will fail. This fear has defined our current reality. They call upon us to restore the competitive edge for the nation. It may not be fair but it is fact.
Rick Hess, in his new book Cage-Busting Leadership, describes present leadership as being like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a mountain for eternity. "You take a leadership job full of hope and big-picture vision, and then are suddenly swamped wooing community players, stamping out fires, answering e-mails, dealing with irate parents, or running from meeting to meeting. Before you know it, you're working long days, every day, just to keep things from blowing up. The result is a loss of focus, a tendency to fall back on "more, better" strategies, and a lack of time or energy for precise, creative, empathetic problem-solving" (p. 209). This is not leadership. This may not even allow for excellent management. It certainly will not lead to systemic change. And it is rarely ever connected to the heart of the leader.
So, let's consider the relationship between heart and leaders and leadership. Let's go to the source. The root of the word courage from both its French and Latin origins is the word that means heart. There are seldom courses or meetings in which leaders discuss the growth of the heart or evidence of leading by heart.
We propose another source. Ask a child what is in their heart and you will likely hear a combination of facts, feelings and fantasy. Ask an adult and you will likely hear what they know or think. Let us restore ourselves by learning from the children. And let's not be complicate in leading educational systems where children lose heart. Let's instead lead systems where the hearts of the children, their clarity and confidence and simple goodness lead us. Then we will always remember who and what we serve.