Previously, I have written about working with a troubled, inner city school district. We went back and did a workshop for 350 people who are on the leadership teams of the schools. After my first visit to the school district, I had recorded the following story:
At the end of an extraordinary experience, a woman raised her hand and, for about five minutes, shared an emotional tirade about principals as sacrificial lambs. She said she was going to tell it like it really is. She described the true state of the city, the school district, and the kids. She described what it was really like to be a principal in an impossible context. Many of her genuinely, pained statements were met with knowing reinforcement from the rest audience. When she was done, I simply asked, “Why?”
It was not what she was expecting and she said, “Why what?”
“Why do you do it?”
“Because this is what I signed up for.”
“No, that is not the answer.”
This statement was shocking and the room went deadly quiet. It was a potentially explosive moment. After a time, a man on the other side of the room said, “The kids, you do it for the kids.”
As I walked out I happened to be next to the woman who spoke for five minutes. She was still emotional but very open. She returned to the notion of being a sacrificial lamb. I said something about positive leadership. At that moment she had an epiphany. Her face lit up and she said, “That’s it, maybe I am supposed to be a sacrificial lamb. Maybe that is my job in this huge transformation that has to happen.”
This woman of purpose had just further clarified her purpose and it immediately gave her increased meaning. I watched a transformation. The pained emotions disappeared. She looked different. She was standing in her purpose and she was renewed. We just looked at each other with a sense of awe. We hugged and went on our separate ways. I never got her name.
During my recent return, I learned that her name is Melisa Scott Coleman. She was present and during a break we had a reunion. She told me that in the last year and a half she has lost three of her closest and healthiest family members. It led to a lot of deep exploration. After our encounter she said she accepted her role as scapegoat. She then clarified her purpose. She went back and resolved with her people that the school would be a happy place. “When a kid comes in, he or she is going to get a hug. The place is going to be colorful and clean even if the janitor does not show up. If there is bad stuff going on, it stops with us. It is not going to flow to the kids.”
I asked her to share her story with the group. She agreed and shared the account of accepting her role and resolving to create a positive school. The audience was more moved by her account than anything I said. Having her share was my best teaching. When a person of real intent speaks, people listen.
What is my purpose at work?
When have I created a positive organization?
How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?