Are You the Old or Young Lady or Both?
Prudence Constant is retiring after being the Head of School at EveryPerson School for the last fifteen years. The board decided to hold a banquet to celebrate her leadership. She is sitting at the head table with her current and past board chairs.
Many teachers, past and current, are present as are some parents and graduates.
At one table, the lamentations that Prudence was leaving were loud and incessant. This table rejoiced in Prudence’s leadership, her ability to make difficult decisions and the fact that the school’s enrollment rose 20% during her leadership.
At another table, the feeling was quite different. This table was celebrating that Prudence was leaving. “Her departure was long overdue,” She certainly did not have a good relationship with the faculty and while enrollment has increased under her tenure, very little of that newfound revenue went to increased salaries or benefits, they claimed.
A third table had a different take on Prudence. They thought Prudence had lost a step in the last few years. While once she was at every game and concert, she now often failed to attend the events or just be at the event for a few minutes. This table appreciated the improvement to the academic program but thought Prudence was not engaged enough with the students. It was time for her to leave.
Finally, at another table the view was conflicted. Some felt they were being abandoned by a Head who had implicitly promised to stay while others thought she served the school honorably for long enough. Some at the table wished Prudence had spent more time working with them individually while others felt they had all the support they needed.
Of course, the Prudence who was being celebrated was the exact same woman as the one being excoriated. Much of her praise or criticism was due to the perspective of the commentator rather than Prudence's actions. Like the optical illusion in the picture above, some viewers see an old lady, some a young one.
As a leader, it can be frustrating that your decisions and approach land differently depending on your audience. However, it is important to know you will be perceived differently by different people.
Worrying less about how you are seen and more on how to serve the organization’s mission and how to achieve the organization’s priorities is the way to success.