I ran across an article last week that made me think. Really think. It was about Hillary Clinton. In retrospect, it could have been about Sarah Palin, Kirsten Hillibrand, Christine O’Donnell. It’s less about which woman or the party to which she belongs. It has to do with public scrutiny, the reach of the public, a dysfunctional media, and an era where the internet is using to tear down and not raise up.
The article talked about the changes in Hillary Clinton, how she has morphed over time into a less candid, more guarded leader who just so happens to be a candidate for President of the United States. I doubt that the reflective nature of this in depth analysis of Hillary was just about her running for President, but more an insightful perspective on how we, as leaders, change. How the media shamelessly attacks women. Mercilessly.
And I realized how much of what Hillary is feeling is similar to what I feel as a leader. Having spent the last two days at the University of Southern California’s Urban Superintendent Academy, spending four hours listening to the passionate stories, experiences, wounds, successes and learnings from former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Deasy, I watched a man who loves public education and has dedicated his life to improving it. Student by student. School by school. Yet, the wounds of experience are deep. Just like Hillary’s.
What toll does leadership take on us? Let’s skip the impact on our eating habits, sleep, exercise regiments and families. They seem too honest and too simplistic.
What does leadership do to our souls? Do we lose that tender side of ourselves, the wonderfully personable and laughable parts of ourselves and as the lashes heal a bit less with each passing beating? Because let’s face it – you can’t be a leader in public education these days without public and private floggings. They come in the form of comments in person, indirectly, by others to colleagues, in blogs, and in the scathing Friday night emails that deeply penetrate a weekend.
Many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, much the same way Hillary used to do as the wife of a politician, the mother of a daughter, a successful attorney, a community leader. And then she faced the indiscretions of her husband and the scars were formed. And we were attacked online unfairly because anyone can say what they want on the internet and if it’s on the internet, it must be true. Right?
The article goes on to call the change in Hillary, or perhaps the change in leaders as “self-discipline.” But I think its more than that. Its not a level of discipline that makes us guarded, that instinctively trains us to respond that “it’s all great” when it is anything but. Over time we learn that revealing too much or being honest isn’t worth the effort, that judgment comes from being honest, and truth is morphed into whatever reality others want from the information they seek.
As leaders we change. For the better. And for the worse. I wouldn’t change the emotion and passion I have for the work I do, but ultimately I hope that, over time, the loveliness that can exist in public education can return to what it once was…less about pulling each other down and more about boosting each other up. And I wish the same for those who seek political office. Becoming hardened to survive and thrive should not be a prerequisite.