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Leadership, a Powerlift

By Luci Willis
Leadership, a Powerlift

I want to talk about weight. Not body weight, not the relentless pressure for women to take up less space in the world. I could talk about that, but not today. I am working on finding my way through that particular minefield. One of the ways through it, I have found, is to focus on being strong. Literally. So I’ve begun to lift weights. As in, I load up a barbell with heavy weights and lift it. I am talking powerlifting. When you start out lifting weights you make quick progress. You are able to lift heavy and experience clear and rapid progress. But the challenge is incremental, as you add a little more weight each time. The program I’m using is called 5x5, which outlines a set of exercises to do each session and explains how to increase the weight over time. There is a story about a man carrying a pig up a mountain. When setting out, the thing is a little piglet. But, of course, it grows every day, until finally the man finds himself carrying an enormous pig. He hadn’t noticed the burden getting just a little heavier every day. I am a relatively new leader. This is my second year as an administrator, and it’s been an especially hard one. It felt like the weight got very heavy very quickly. And I didn’t always feel strong enough to carry it. In April, I got the phone call we all dread—the one that comes in the middle of the night. One of our seniors had been in a fatal traffic accident and was likely to die by the morning. My head of school and mentor was stuck in Laos and was unable to get back to school to share the news with the community. I needed to carry the weight of this day without him, and I was afraid I would not be strong enough. If you know my head of school, then it will come as no surprise that before 5 a.m. we had Skyped and he had prepared us a full plan, including a script of what I should say when breaking the news to the seniors. I did not have to carry the weight of that day alone. If you know small community schools like ours, then you will not be shocked to learn that the staff were incredible and put aside their own grief to support the students. I did not have to carry the weight of the student grief alone. If you know the international education community, then you will perhaps have guessed that within one hour of us reaching out to the other international school heads in Japan, I had 30 emails offering us counselors who could arrive that day to support our community. We did not have to carry this weight alone. There have been other moments in these challenging first years as an administrator when I have allowed the weight to become too heavy. When I have felt that the burden was on myself and no one else. Recently, I have been reflecting on that. As with my weightlifting, I control what weight goes on the barbell. I realized that I am probably stronger than I think but also reminded myself that, to truly build strength, you have to put the weights down as well as pick them up. When things are feeling heavy as a leader, it’s important to take time to notice: Are you overloading the bar? Is it time to put the weight down, or to share the burden? Or is it just not as heavy as you think it is? I am working on building my leadership strength by recognizing both the weight I place on myself and the place of lightness in taking on the challenge of carrying the weight of responsibility for a school community.

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