Greensilkmuse's Blog


Leadership Lessons I

Posted in Leadership by greensilkmuse on March 19, 2010

I had just come through the merger of JPMorgan and Chase.  I took the opportunity to change roles so that I could focus on organization development.  I knew that, in the longer term, I wanted to go back into consulting, and I was working on gaining experience and skills in this discipline. I didn’t take a leadership role at work.  Instead, I gained that experience in the community.

I was on the executive boad of the parents association at my daughter’s school at the time.  We learned that the school was to go through a merger, as well– with a sister school located in another building.  I figured that I could leverage my recent corporate merger experience to merge the parents’ associations of the two schools, and took on the job of co-president of the newly formed parents’ association.

We came together to create  the new entity – using the best of what each association had been doing for its’ parent body.  We got the ball rolling on setting up a new 501c3 and put together a calendar of community-building events and fundraisers.   Things seemed to going smoothly, until the 3rd day of school – September 11, 2001.

I was already at work when the planes slammed into the World Trade Towers.  Our nanny took the kids to school, which is located 7 blocks north of Ground Zero.   As everyone gathered in the yard preparing to enter the school building, they noticed an airplane overhead that seemed to be flying low.  The children were entering the school building when the first plane struck the towers.  When my sitter realized something terrible had happened, she quickly grabbed my kids, headed north, and commandeered a taxi to get them home to safety.

Those who remained at school were evacuated later that morning.  They were lined up on the street and heading north to congregate at another school building when the first Tower crashed.  We were very fortunate.  Everyone made it to safety.  None of our families suffered losses in the attack.   However, each and every person was touched in some way by the enormity of what had transpired — emotions ran the gammut and some were traumatized from the experience.

A few days after the attack, parents, children, and teacher came together in a school building in another part of town.  We learned that the school would operate temporarily from this new site – in available classrooms scattered about several floors.  We also learned that plans were being made for our return to the original school buildin, as soon as possible.

At that moment, my understanding of my leadership role shifted.  A parent approached me to say that the parents’ association leadship needed to be the voice of the parents and advocate for them – so that we could be active participants in the decisions being taken about the school and or children.  Many parents had concerns about the future plans, and we needed to provide a forum for them to air their views and discuss the issues.  This was nothing like the kind of interactions we’d had as parents before.  But then this was an entirely unprecedented situation.

I hadn’t thought that I had a lot to learn about leadership.  I had experience leading projects and teams.  This required a completely different kind of leadership.  It started with listening.

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