Principal’s Perspective on Strong School Leadership: Elephant in the Room`

Strong school leadership means making decisions. But even the best principals can’t possibly make everyone happy at the final gong.[…]Continue Reading

We all see the elephant differently

Strong school leadership means making decisions. But even the best principals can’t possibly make everyone happy at the final gong.

The parent organization that supports our elementary school in Nebraska frequently meets and makes decisions about family-school activities and fundraising. And when passionate parents gets together, there are often differences of opinion. There are times when I, as principal, need to listen to divergent points of view and then follow my gut instinct to make a final decision.  To one parent, I am taking control of the situation for the better of the cause.  To another, I am crossing a line I shouldn’t have crossed.  One feels right, the other feels wronged.  But in reality all of their truths are what lead me to my decisions.

A Parable About School Leadership

Jainism, an ancient religion from India, states that there is truth in everyone’s perspective. The parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men is one of my favorites, and explains it well:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! It is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan,” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you have said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

This school leadership parable is a reminder that what constitutes a sound decision will vary. Each of us has personal experiences that create a unique outlook of the world, which in turn, results in several truths.

Leaders must make decisions recognizing all of these diverse perspectives. And often the decisions must be made when others can only see part of the elephant.  I’ve learned that as long as the decisions align with my values, character, and integrity I can feel confident moving forward.  The whole elephant will come into focus over the course of time.