Leadership can be and often is – a lonely place

Since I was a young boy, helping my mom setup her classroom many summer days in preparation for a new school year of teaching high school ELA at the now-demolished high school I would eventually attend as a student later in my K-12 career in rural South Central Ohio, I knew I wanted to be an educator. Just like my mom, maternal grandparents and aunt. Those high school visits on those sweltering July and August days in a school that back then was not air conditioned, cemented it, though.

Fast forward 30 plus years as I progressed within my own career and my scope shifted from leading a classroom, to instructional coaching within the faculty to my current role of school administrator and having a more global view, I’ve learned to come to the conclusion that leadership can really be isolating. Leadership is often about making and/or enforcing decisions that are best for the building, school community, district and ultimately the students. It is often a challenge, if even possible to not receive some push back even on decisions that are popular.

As Mandy Gilbert’s outstanding article in INC puts it right out of the gate “leadership and loneliness go hand-in-hand. As the person in charge, it’s inevitable that you’ll be treated with a different regard than when you were a regular member of the team. Those daily 3pm coffee breaks and happy hour invitations are no longer being extended, and your water cooler conversations have become trivial small talk. You’re no longer one of the gang. You’re one of them.”


Being friendly and legit friends are two different things. Critical conversations and decisions are hard enough and inevitable within leadership. Don’t make things more difficult. This was critical within moving to my first school administration position 6 years. Balance is key. I intentionally do not live in the school community I serve, but rather a neighboring suburb in part for separation and mainly for balance within work/life. Mr. Fetters vs. Brendan. Vital for mental, physical and my overall well-being.

Being comfortable within your own skin and remembering leadership is indeed often a lonely place. That is ok. Bouncing ideas off fellow school leaders within your district, collaborating with building peers within leadership to ensure you’re functioning as a true team, a collective unit.

Strong work/life balance. Being able to cut off once the work day concludes, say no to that after hours text message or email thats not urgent. Say yes to taking off email app alerts after hours making more time for fitness, making ample sleep and nutrition a priority just to name a few.

While leadership can be a lonely place it doesn’t mean you’re leading completely in isolation. Find your support system. Discover your balance. Key. Check in on the people you serve ongoing. Let them know that you care. No matter their role. They matter – remind them of this. By doing this in an on-going genuine manner, it makes those tougher “big picture” decisions more connectable often as well. After all, everyone needs encouragement in our fast-paced every adjusting profession. Never forget where you came from. Humility goes a long way.

“If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it” – John Maxwell

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