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  • Reverend James Squire

Showing Up

I didn’t think that I would ever be quoting Woody Allen on ethics and leadership, but he is credited with making the statement that “80% of success in life is just showing up.” I asked a former head of school to speak in chapel about his philosophy of leadership. His theme in his address was “I am going to be everywhere!” Some people in the school community didn’t quite understand the importance of what he was saying, but I remember getting a smile on my face and saying to myself that his theme was my theme. You have to be visible in the community and more particularly people have to see that you are willing to inconvenience yourself for others in that process of showing up.

Two people who have appeared in the Philadelphia news recently somehow didn’t get that message. Jason Wingard, President of Temple University, recently resigned (or he would been fired) came to Philadelphia with a great deal of fanfare. I am always suspect of that as it raises the community’s expectations. If you have been following the affairs at Temple, you know that there have been faculty strikes, a downturn in admissions, and safety concerns after the death of a security officer, and a pending no confidence vote. Members of the university said that Wingard was missing in action. Wingard inherited issues that resulted from the Covid pandemic, but he missed important step number one. Be visible.

I thought that his choice to live near the school was a first step in showing up. His home was being renovated, but he still had not moved in after two years.

He showed up in the wrong way which I think was the real reason that he was asked to resign. The Board of Trustees have not indicated the reason for his resignation. During all of the high- stakes deliberations at the school, he was missing in action. Students and faculty complained that they never saw him. To add insult to injury, he was showing up at the Super Bowl and a trip to Jamaica to check on a student program there.

Recently we had a water crisis in the city. Mayor Kenney, who already suffers from an image of his checking out on his role and responsibilities, waited days before he made a public statement about the condition of the water and the actions taken. His response to criticism about this was to indicate that he had been working hard behind the scenes. Leaders of a city during a crisis need to be front and center with their message. We can look no further than the statements of the mayor of Nashville after the school shooting that recently occurred there. He returned from a trip to be the spokesperson for the city leadership. He was front and center along with the chief of police.

When I arrived at EA, I was coming from a traditional model of seeing people in my office. It didn’t take me long to figure out the limitations of that in a school culture. Granted I saw people in my office, but I had an open-door policy. Everyone knew that if the door was closed, I was with someone. But even that approach was not as effective as getting out and “being everywhere.” Since it was not uncommon for me to be in the midst of students and faculty, it created a sanctuary in public places where I could talk with anyone, and it didn’t mean that I was counseling someone in need of help. I could be talking with a student regarding a recent game. I would sometimes say to the student who asked for help to step into my office as I drew an imaginary line around us. The fact of the matter was that I enjoyed that kind of approach and really enjoyed watching their games, attending debates and performances of different kinds and everything else about being in a school environment. As strange as it may sound, I enjoyed inconveniencing myself for others because people commented how much all of that meant to them. They knew I was busy. I sometimes said to myself that if I got 50% done of what I needed to do in a day, that was a good day. My personality is such that I enjoyed being in the middle of things and playing a role in helping others. I enjoy solving problems, the more difficult the better. I was always grateful that I loved going to “work” and feel sorry for those who don’t have that privilege. A school community doesn’t care if you have a clerical collar or not. They just want to know that you can get the job done.

One of the difficult questions that I raised for students in ethics was where they had to choose between two things. Would you rather have a job that you really love and a tolerable home life or would you rather have a tolerable job and a great home life? The purpose of the question was to see if this sharpened their values about what made them happy. The question took off in a direction that I hadn’t expected. The students began to express how unhappy their parents were with their job but that they needed to do the work in order to send their children to an independent school which costs quite a bit of money. They appreciated what their parents sacrificed for them, but it made them conflicted about answering the question. Obviously, there were parents who enjoyed what they did and enjoyed a happy healthy home life. But I purposedly made it a difficult choice that they couldn’t have both. The class was divided on their answers. Their answers were highly informed by the experience of their parents.

When they do their exit interviews, I do hope that there is question of whether Wingard and Kenney enjoyed their jobs as a university president or mayor. In essence, did they enjoy showing up? It is a question that every leader should ask and answer. Being a leader is a challenging position, but step number one is “showing up.” This is not to discount the importance of working behind the scenes known as passive leadership. After “showing up,” nothing else seems to matter as much. Whoever thought that Woody Allen would point to an important aspect of leadership?

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