Who wants to be a leader?

Very early in my teaching career at Napanee District Secondary School, my principal, Mike Dollack, asked me to produce the first musical the school had had in a decade. What did I know about producing a musical? Nothing. But I was honoured to be asked and it meant that I got to work with two talented men, both of whom frightened me – the tall, long-haired motorcycle-driving drama teacher and the quiet but dynamic music teacher. We worked with a whole other set of staff and students who built sets, made posters, found sponsors, danced, sang and acted. Mike had a vision to “bring the arts to Napanee” and I worked harder than I ever had not to let him down.

When the time came, I was tracking ticket sales daily. One day, I updated the head office administrator, then walked into the vault to deposit the envelope of cash. Mike, who had clearly been listening to our conversation, followed me in, closed the door, and asked, “Anne-Marie, will this thing really make money?”

When I think about my development as a leader, this image sticks out for me. Not only was I chosen to be part of a big project, I think it was the first time I was responsible for the business side of something. I hadn’t really thought about the financial risk involved in taking on a musical. I hadn’t wondered – where did the money come from? And what happens if ticket and sponsorship sales don’t cover expenses?

So there I was – with my boss, in a safe, being grilled about finances. I remember thinking then, as I am thinking now: this is a big deal. And then something hilarious happened. When we finally figured out, that after all of the expenses were paid, that we would break even, Mike let out a huge yelp. I’m not even kidding. He opened the door and announced to the office that our show was going to be a success.

Why am I thinking about this moment over 20 years later?

We are planning our Next Step program and giving a lot of thought to a big question: what is the best way to develop future leaders? We have an application process, so we will attract only the most motivated and capable leaders in our schools, and we will establish a National Cohort so they can support and challenge each other and grow themselves and their schools. We have talented facilitators and a curriculum for two summers; and we have a plan for the year in between that includes mentoring, job shadowing, self-reflection, and evaluation tools. Finally, we have a Change Project that requires participants to think of a need at their school and then design and implement an initiative. That’s the fun part. My hope is that they choose something big… something that stretches them and even scares them so that when they experience success, someone yelps.

But (isn’t there always a but…) we need emerging leaders. We want twenty of them, to be exact. Here’s the funny thing about emerging leaders – they rarely step forward without the proverbial shoulder tap. So do me a favour: share this with someone. Tell them you believe in them and you believe that they can do something big. One day, they might just thank you for it. And then I hope you yelp.