Civil War historian Shelby Foote said that Ulysses S. Grant had something few generals had…he had “Four o’clock in the morning courage”. This is the courage it takes to stay calm when you are woken up at 4:00AM and told your left flank has just been turned. This is the same kind of courage you as a superintendent need to stay focused and effective in your job.
This kind of courage is needed when your district achievement scores do not come in where you hoped they would be. A leader has a choice…panic and react based on fear, or thoughtfully respond based on conviction and hope.
This kind of courage is needed when a board member calls and believes in an internet hoax and demands that you “do something”. You can freak out by shutting out all access to the internet for the school, or have faith in the vision and roadmap of the district and respond in an appropriately calm manner.
This kind of courage is needed when a staff member asks to do something that has never been done before in your district. You can answer in one of two ways. You can tell them, “This has never been done so we are not going to start now” or you can empower staff members to stretch themselves professionally.
This kind of courage is needed when your board wants you to cut money from the budget on an item that is essential for kids and the district’s vision. Saying “no” to the board and working with them to find other areas to “cut” money if necessary is 4:00 o’clock in the morning courage.
This kind of courage is needed when you put a teacher that is popular but a poor instructor on an improvement plan. The vision is more important than popularity.
Think of all the times when you have a choice between reacting to a situation or thoughtfully staying the course and continually reaching for the vision of the district. It is so easy for your focus to wander away from the ultimate goals for the district when decision making is based on being reactive instead of being proactive. Allowing yourself to be “squirreled” and unfocused on your ultimate goals prevents excellence from taking root in your district. The courage to stay calm and focused (Four o’clock in the morning courage) is an essential attribute for effective school leadership.