Decisions in the Parking Lot

By Adam McDaniel, Cohort 8 Mentor, Principal at New Castle Middle School

There are many habits in other people that irritate us from time to time. Maybe for you, it is when other people chew with their mouths open. Perhaps the person who leaves his turn signal on for 10 miles before noticing and turning it off to change lanes without using the said turn signal. Or maybe it is when a loved one leaves the bowl right side up in the dishwasher only to catch all of the gritty water throughout the cycle, going you to mistakenly remove the bowl too quickly and leave a puddle of dishwasher water all over the kitchen floor. We all have pet peeves, and these annoyances are only amplified when present in those we love. 

Every weekend my wife, our kids, and I run errands. We go to the grocery, the shoe store, grab lunch, etc. The goal is always to complete necessary chores while also enjoying time together as a family. But it is during these trips that my wife’s most frustrating pet peeve rears its ugly head. 

As we enter the parking lot to find a location for our minivan, her blood pressure begins to rise. She can feel it, I can feel it, and I’m pretty sure the kids have also noticed her anxiety level reaching new heights as I meander through the rows of cars. Her frustration is not with the way I drive but in the goal of our journey. She grows more and more irritated with the mission I choose. I am determined to find the BEST parking spot. 

Entering the back of the lot, I pass numerous empty car slots. I do not doubt that each white line we pass mocks her for hoping I would stop and choose to concede to a less convenient destination. But that would be too easy. I rationalize my determined hunt by stating that the goal is to provide them with a shorter walk to and from the store. I am trying to take care of them by finding the best solution to our situation. Her frustration is worth it. Right?

It is the same with decision-making as school leaders. Everyday leaders enter the building ready to face new problems and questions. Every day students, staff, and stakeholders depend on leaders to make decisions that will guarantee a safe, orderly, and rich learning experience. Sometimes these decisions are easy. Sometimes they are very hard. But all of them belong to us as leaders. Our responsibility to serve is interwoven with our obligation to be decisive. 

Thankfully there are many resources at our disposal. We have access to a wide variety of help as we contemplate the myriad of concerns and questions that come our way. We can turn to staff, students, colleagues, mentors, supervisors, parents, etc. for advice, guidance, and perspective. When we listen to smart people with different perspectives, we get better.

Being surrounded by the right people provides growth opportunities and stimulates buy-in across the stakeholder landscape. But not all decisions can be made by a committee or through careful, tedious, and time-consuming dialogue. Sometimes a leader must decide. 

Back to the parking lot: after canvasing a few rows without any success, my wife will say that they don’t mind the walk; they want to get to a spot. Sometimes a decision needs to be made. It may not be the most popular decision. It may make for a longer walk. But knowing that the leader will be walking alongside, helping with baggage, and maneuvering around obstacles makes the journey less grueling. When a decision is made, anxiety about the unknown is lifted, and growth begins. 

Sometimes we need to make a decision, take the walk, and get in the store. Do not waste time waiting for something better or a more obvious solution to come along. It becomes less about how long the walk and more about supporting the journey in times like these.