As mentioned previously, I moved to a new school for middle school and those years were tumultuous at best. During that time I was not only trying to fit in at a new school, I was also trying to find where I fit in a new neighborhood.

Shortly after moving in, the neighborhood boy scout troop went on their annual week-long camp. For that particular year, we went down to southern Utah. We went on a lot of hikes that day but the hike to Hickman’s Bridge is the most memorable.

As we were hiking up to Hickman’s Bridge, which is comparable in dimensions to the three arches of Natural Bridges National Monument with a 130-foot span and 125-foot height, a couple of the boys starting talking about how it would be cool to climb up the bridge and walk across it. Since I was new in the neighborhood and eager to make friends I told them that I would climb it. I had been climbing things since I could walk and loved to do it. So we hung back from the group and when they made the turn to go under the bridge we climbed up a little crevice that led to the base of the bridge.

I scurried up to the base and started to climb. For this hike, I was wearing my large hiking boots which were wonderful for hiking, but awful for climbing. Once I had gotten about 40 feet off the ground I got to a tiny ledge that was just barely big enough for the toe of my large hiking boot. At that point I realized that there were no more good hand or footholds, so I rested for a second and scouted (no pun intended) out the area looking for something else grab on to. Finding nothing I started to panic a little bit, not sure how I was going to climb up or down. I wasn’t able to commit to climbing higher or trying to get down. At this point I did what any smart climber would do, I turned myself around on the wall so my back was to the wall with my heel now on the tiny ledge. Boy was that the wrong thing to do! Now I was couldn’t move any which way, I was balancing very precariously on the edge. Realizing that I was stuck the two other boy scouts on that were still on the ground started to laugh.

Slowly I tried to turn myself around and that’s when my foot slipped. Strangely enough, I don’t remember the next few moments, but the other boys do. They told me that I once I slipped I started to slide down the face of the bridge for about 20 feet and then fell another 20 feet into a pokey bush at the base of the bridge. The next thing I know I hear one of the guys yelling “He’s dead! He’s dead!” I don’t know much about medicine, but I knew that I wasn’t dead. In fact, I was very much alive. I laid there for a few more moments while they were running over and then I pulled a move from the movie The Sandlot. I’m not sure how I was so coherent, but I opened one eye as Squints Palledorous did with Wendy Peffercorn, to see where they were because I wanted payback for them laughing at me. Since they were still a little ways off I laid there a little longer than I probably needed to let them fret that I was dead.


The reason I share this story is to show that I am not always flexible nor adaptable in all situations. There is a great book by Robert J. Marzano called School Leadership that Works that talks about The 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader. It also lists data with each responsibility and the effect size it has. One of the highest effect sizes is when the school leader “adapts his or her leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and is comfortable with dissent.” He labeled this responsibility as flexibility. This is obviously something that I didn’t do in the previous situation. But is something that I am trying to do in my professional life.

Adapts his or her leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and is comfortable with dissent.

School Leadership That Works

The job as a school administrator requires you to pivot from one task to another in an instant as situations are constantly changing. There is a lot of flexibility required daily.

In fact, I saw this in action just a few days ago with my principal. He made the trek from his office to the bathroom, 25 yards max, and was stopped no less than five times, by five different people, about five different matters. Each time, he pivoted to the new situation, gave it his full attention, and talked it out with the individual. That adaptability helps make him a dynamic leader that people will follow.

Recently we had the last Friday before graduation. It was also cap and gown day at the school. In a 3 hour period, I had no less than 15 different parents and students come seeking help on their situation. It usually revolved around getting their attendance situation cleared up, or a parking ticket that had to be paid. If these two things were not cleared, the seniors were not able to pick up their cap and gown. Many parents had senior pictures planned for this weekend because they would finally have the official cap and gown and since they were finally at the deadline, I received a lot of Hail Marys and tears trying to get things cleared up. After the 10th individual, it felt like I was just getting beat up to submission. I typically consider myself a somewhat flexible person who can adapt as the needs, but I was reaching my limit. By the time the 13th, 14th, and 15th person came in I had it. It was probably the parent whose student had missed 31 days in a 45-day quarter window, and they were getting upset with an “unflexible” teacher that put me over the edge. I felt burned out and stretched too thin. Luckily I had some coworkers that stepped in to help out when I needed a short break.


One thing I have learned from my principal is how to “banter” with someone. When we bring an issue to him, or he is making a decision, he will constantly tell us to “banter with me.” At first, I thought it was a little strange, why did we need to banter, what did he really mean by it? I came to learn that he uses it as a tactic to make sure he is making the right decision. He wants to make sure he hears both sides and if they have a valid argument, he is often swayed by it. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean that he is open-minded to the options and is willing to change his mind if things are presented in a way that makes sense to change.

You can’t be an effective leader in business, politics, or society unless you encourage those around you to speak their minds, to bring attention to hypocrisy and misbehavior, and to be as direct and strong-willed in their evaluations of you as you are in your strategies and plans for them.

True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation

As mentioned in the Harvard Business Review article, True Leader Believe Dissent Is an Obligation, they profile McKinsey & Company, the blue-chip consulting firm, who has one of their policies as an Obligation to Dissent. This basically means that “the youngest, most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room.”

Truth be told, very few people have the guts to dissent, very few people become fearless because very few leaders emphasize and celebrate their obligation to do so.

True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation

When you have a meeting with your boss, don’t agree with him based on everything that he says. Knowing that the policy dictates that your obligation is to bring up problems with the idea or situation, you are going to have the best minds and the best outcomes. “People like living in that environment. They feel valuable. People become fearless.”

Flexibility and Dissent

As I first started reading The 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader, I was confused as to why Robert Marzano was using flexibility and dissent together. At first glance, they seem to unrelated to each other. But as I’ve read and researched about the two and thought about the experiences I’ve had in my life and professional career, I can see that the two are related.

I have worked with individuals that were neither flexible nor encouraged dissent. Rarely have I worked with someone that had one but not both of the characteristics. They seem to feed off each other. If I am someone that is flexible in my leadership style, who adapts my style to the current situation than I am not going to be uncomfortable to dissent from my colleagues and employees. In fact, I’ll embrace and encourage it because it does not make me uncomfortable. On the other hand, I have worked with colleagues who have not been able to be flexible or adaptable in different situations. I have not seen these people grow nor have I enjoyed working with them.

What have you done to become more flexible and or encourage dissent? Comment below!