Leading is Lonely

Another week has flown by, and I’m sitting here with my Chrome book atop my lap, Theraflu on my left, tissues on my right, and I’m reflecting on the adventures of the past week that have come and gone. It was a good week if I recall correctly. Somewhere along the way, I managed to catch a cold. I had to catch it because I move too quickly for it to have caught me — always walking with a purpose and logging 10 – 12 thousand steps each day. I slow down occasionally to snack, and on a good day, I get to eat a full lunch with a couple friends.

At some point on Thursday, I recall stopping to eat lunch, but everyone had already eaten by noon. It was 3:00 PM, so I ate alone in my office. I sat at my desk, removed the privacy screen from my monitor, and stared at the 97 remaining unread messages in my box. I was reluctant to start the arduous task of reading and responding, but I did it anyway. By 4:30 PM, I heard the sound of a rolling trash can. Like clockwork, Nate was on his way to clean the office — earbuds in and singing something unfamiliar in falsetto. He knocked on my door before entering (as usual) and started chatting about football (as usual). I finally had to confess that I don’t really like football. This charade had gone on all season long, and I had to put a stop to it. “I love the New Orleans Saints, and I love to trash talk. That’s the extent of it.” He looked a bit befuddled when I admitted it.  He had a look of Say it isn’t so! I assure you, Nate: It is so. I know enough about the teams we play, but if you challenge me to go deeper, you’ll know that I’m a fraud. I think I broke his heart that day, but I just didn’t have the heart to talk about Superbowl 50, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, or Beyonce. Nate left in silence for the first time all year. Perhaps while breaking his heart, I had also unlocked the door to our next courageous conversation — explaining to him why he will never become the next American Idol.

A little before 5:00 PM, I took my final stroll around the building to chat with the night time custodial staff. I do this three times per week to clear my head before heading home. It’s always nice to touch base and hear what’s going on in their lives. Very few people get to know them unless they work late in their classrooms. For me, it’s a special treat because I get to laugh and be Mizz Malone for a little while instead of Mrs. Malone.

As I circled back to the office to grab my coat and keys, I heard the doorbell ring.  Someone was at the door after 5:00 PM. It was a student who had forgotten her homework in her locker. I let her in and told her she had three minutes. She hustled out of the office and made it back with seconds to spare. Just as she left, someone else must have been at the door and waltzed in as the student left. I was still within earshot and heard someone knocking on the locked office door. Though she had gained entry to the building, she couldn’t go any further. She was stuck between Scylla and Charibdis (a rock and a hard place) — either go back into the frigid outdoors or rap on the door in hopes of someone hearing her. Today was her lucky day. If I had already exited through the cafeteria, I wouldn’t have heard her desperate rapping, nor would she have made it to the in-service for which she was 30 minutes late.

I finally made it out around 5:30, and I didn’t look back. As I drove home, I realized two things: Our students think we live at school, and leading is lonely. Apart from those who lead alongside you, you don’t fit into any other group. I noticed that years ago when I assumed the role of English Department Chair.  I wasn’t one of the girls in the department anymore. When I moved to a new school with a different department, I made a few friends that I now consider family, but even in that case, I wasn’t just one of the girls. I had to seek those who understood my struggle — other Department Chairs. We had a special kinship, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.

As an assistant principal, the struggle is still true. Although I’ve made quite a few friends here, I’m not one of the girls. I’m Mrs. Malone or Michelle (not to be confused with Mizz Malone who pals around with the custodial staff). I can’t let my hair down. I can’t have a bad day. I can’t misspell a word in my e-mails. I can’t hug a kid who’s having a bad day (I break this rule often.). I can’t lose my cool, and I can’t complain about my tough days. Who would listen? Who has time to listen? Can anyone else relate to my struggle? Only another school leader can relate. Those we lead only get to see a snapshot; we see the big picture. That, too, is part of the struggle that divides us.

When I pray for our leaders  as scripture urges us to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, I also pray for God to comfort us and allow us to feel his presence so that in our loneliness, we never feel alone. Many of us didn’t choose this path; we were called to it knowing that the way wouldn’t always be easy.

I know I’ll never be one of the girls in the English Department again, and I’m fine with that, but parting is such sweet sorrow. I also realize that I’m no longer Just Michelle; I’m Mrs. Malone.

What’s in a name? A rose by another other name would smell as sweet.                           ~William Shakespeare~

Finally, I know that leading can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I may not be able to share the intimate details of my day with anyone except other administrators at the occasional Happy Hour, but I can still share my story with those around me as they share theirs with me. Though our roles may divide us, our stories are the glue that binds us.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10