A few years ago, I was honored that the renowned Lolly Daskal asked me to co-host her weekly #LeadFromWithin Tweet Chat. We selected the topic of healing, which apparently struck a chord with many members of her very large Twitter community. That hashtag trended to number two during the hour. Because of that experience, I wrote about my own emotional healing.
My story of healing is like the story of many people in leadership roles. It involves pain, deceit, friendship, disorientation, reflection, growth and eventually finding a better place. In addition, it involves high school football.
I loved working as the principal of a 2100+ student high school. Talking with the students each day—and night—was a joy. Feeling that I was making a difference in their lives gave me fulfillment. Interacting with other educators to improve teaching and learning was challenging and rewarding. Getting to know parents and members of the community gave me a sense of place and connection. Continuing to learn and develop my leadership skills was an on-going source of gratification and consternation.
When the revered head football coach who had won four state championships announced he was retiring, the question of who would replace him became very important to the community surrounding my very traditional high school. The interview committee I selected to make recommendations took their jobs very seriously, but I made it clear in the beginning that I would make the final decision.
A couple of very vocal members of the committee pressed for a candidate about whom I had reservations. His comments seemed too good to be true. When the other two candidates the committee recommended decided not to take the position, these individuals used their power in the community to pressure the superintendent to require me to hire their choice.
Despite my reservations, I was fully set to accept this coach and work with him for the benefit of the school and the students. His commitment to winning was never in question. However, issues quickly surfaced about his suitability as a role model for the students and as a representative of the school.
Within the first four months, the state high school athletics association fined the school $500 for the coach's improper recruiting practices. I did not solicit or encourage complaints, but nearly every week I received student or parent reports of misconduct.
I became convinced this coach was involved in unethical and/or possibly dangerous activities even though I could not substantiate all the allegations. When I reported the allegations and my findings to the Superintendent of schools, who was to retire at the end of the year, he instructed me to fire the coach.
Members of the community who insisted on a winning season were incensed that their choice for head coach had received a notice of termination. When the Superintendent saw that some powerful members of the community were opposed to the decision, he told the local newspaper and others in the community that he had "overturned my decision." The notice of termination was rescinded.
I learned he made other comments in the community that were clearly untrue. However, I believed I could not openly discuss the issues. Enough people were aware of the facts and that the decision to terminate had been his that the truth came out, but the damage was done to my credibility. My integrity was called into question because the allegations and findings were never made public.
I seemed to have the support of students, teachers and parents who understood the dynamics, but the situation compromised my credibility. Discussion in the community ranged from total support for my position to the statement that “a woman should not be principal of that school.”
When a new superintendent took over and it became clear the firing of the football coach was becoming a distraction, I moved to another administrative position in the district office, which provided me with outstanding opportunities and challenges. I took on school planning and leadership development in the fast-growing district of about 38,000 students. In my office next door to the new superintendent, I was able to make decisions and oversee projects that had tremendous impact on the organization.
However, that job had been my identity. It gave me great pleasure. The new job gave me much more personal time and much less stress, but I had to deal with the pain and anger the experience produced.
I was somewhat vindicated a few months later when the principal who took my place at the high school fired the same coach. This principal seemed to have little fallout from his action. By then, perhaps the things I had seen had become more apparent to the coach's earlier supporters.
My experience pales in comparison to the tragedy and suffering others have endured. Nevertheless, the pain was real, and I believe it defined who I am today. It shaped my passion to support those in pain, and it helped me understand myself and others better.
In addition to some wonderful friends and family who supported me, I had the opportunity to work with a very wise leadership coach as I trained to be a coach myself. She helped me to rewrite my story in a way that changed my feelings about it.
I could write much more, but I will summarize some of the things I learned about healing from this experience.
- Healing occurred when I was finally grateful for the experience and even for the actions of the Superintendent. I will never respect him, but I am no longer angry.
- Having the opportunity to work with my own coach helped me finally to let go.
- Using humor to rewrite my story helped me to feel different emotions about the experience.
- Feeling immense gratitude for the colleagues and friends who supported and defended me helped to speed the healing process. Theses friendsmade a tremendous difference in my life.
- Knowing my husband and son shared my pain lessened the burden I felt and made our relationships stronger.
- Making a conscious decision to forgive and to put down a rock I had been polishing for a number of months was difficult, and it took time. However, that is also what allowed the healing to take place.
- Recognizing that my wounds had become an asset moved me in a better direction that I find very meaningful.
For me, the essence of healing is gratitude. A conscious choice to forgive is important, but it was the gratitude for friends, family and the experience that ultimately helped me to move forward and to thrive.
What are your experiences? What helped you through?
If you are still working to heal, email or call me using the contact information below. I would be happy to listen.