I think and read and write a lot about leadership. Earlier this week I listened about it. I heard a story a couple days ago (and the names and schools shall remain unwritten or changed to protect the innocent!) that illustrates a specific aspect of leadership – hiring – that is often overlooked but can have both specific, personal effects, as well as longer-term institutional effects that can look bad for a school.
The story begins with a young, enthusiastic, and mission-driven teacher. Let’s call her Heather. Heather is preparing to move to the Bay Area in the coming months with her fiance (they’ll be married by the time they move) and a couple weeks ago sent out resumes to multiple Catholic elementary schools in the South Bay and Peninsula here in Northern California. Considering her great resume, education, and references (her current principal loves her!) I wasn’t surprised to hear she had multiple job offers and requests for interviews within days. In the end she received three solid offers of employment and discerned (with her fiance) which would be the best option for her and her young family. There were good aspects to each school and all three clearly wanted her to chose them. Not a bad place to be as a teacher.
So Heather accepted a position with excitement and expectation a couple days ago and then faced the awkward reality of calling the other two principals to turn down their offers. Here is where things get interesting. Hiring is not just recruitment, interview(s), offer, hire. It also includes how all of those things are accomplished and extends beyond a simple “Great, we look forward to having you in the Fall, let me pass you on to my HR person who will give you everything you need.” This is especially true if you’re a principal whose offer is turned down. In the case of our story, one principal reacted well and the other, well . . . didn’t.
The first principal Heather called wasn’t just disappointed by the rejection, but showed annoyance in both word and tone – as if turning her down was not just improbable but personally insulting. She inquired as to which school’s offer Heather had accepted. Upon hearing the name of the school – another Catholic elementary school in the diocese – she said with toxic attitude, “Well, good luck there.” Without knowing it (hopefully!) this principal just confirmed Heather’s choice to not work for her and assured that Heather will not want to seek employment at that school in the future. This principal, understandably disappointed in the moment, allowed that disappointment to control her response and lost the ability to hire a great teacher in the future.
I wish this was it, but there are other implications. If I may be so bold to point out the obvious but often overlooked, take heed principals: teachers talk to each other. [NB this is not necessarily a bad thing; it is simply true and can actually be a very good thing!] Heather probably won’t tell her new colleagues about this experience when she’s introduced at her first faculty meeting this Fall. She might not ever tell any of her colleagues. But let’s assume for a moment two things: this is not the first (or last) time this principal has reacted in a negative way to a potential hire and Heather tells at least one other teacher/colleague about this experience at some point. Play this scenario out for just a moment in your head . . . without realizing it a principal and school (or any employer) can quickly earn a reputation that keeps great people away.
The other principal took the news of rejection in stride and with a bit of grace. Being turned down is an opportunity to keep a door open. If you already offered employment, presumably you actually want to hire this person. You think they fit the current needs of your school, match the culture, and can offer something positive to the community. Then why not respond to the rejection with something like: “Wow, I really wish you had said yes. I would love to work with you, but I respect your decision and wish you all the best at your new school. I’m confident you will do great things there and they are lucky to have you. Please know that I will keep your information on file in case you are ever in a position of considering an opening here in the future.” This is great personnel leadership. It is honest – you really are disappointed. It is respectful – it really is the applicant’s decision. And it is open – you really would consider them again. And think about it . . . this response might be something Heather shares freely with colleagues at her new school. But even if she doesn’t, she’s more likely to speak highly of the principal and school in general. Considering the alternative, no good leader would want it any other way.