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The Power of 'Reasonable'

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Following is a post from guest blogger Phil Paige, long time district administrator now serving as a consultant to the Floyd County Schools.

Folks who study this sort of thing tell us that one of the things that makes a profession a profession is that it has a specialized vocabulary. While leadership may not be a specific profession, it applies to all professions that involve groups of people so perhaps that's why it has its own vocabulary.

In the leadership vocabulary there are a few words that really matter and none matter more than reasonable. Learning to apply reasonable to leadership activities is one of the most important lessons I've learned in my career. How important? While I can't guarantee if you learn the power of reasonable you'll find success as a leader, I can guarantee that if you don't you won't.

Let's start by contrasting reasonable with another important leadership word....promise. Promise is what I like to refer to as an "absolute" word. To understand absolute words, read the description of commitment offered by Miami Heat president and former Laker coach Pat Riley; "There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either in or you're out. There's no such thing as life in-between." Just like with promises, you either keep them or you don't. That's why you as the leader quickly learn that you don't make many and that you keep the ones you make.

"Absolutes" force you to react in a restricted manner that may or may not be the best way. Unlike "absolutes", reasonable is a contextual or situational word that allows the leader to make the appropriate response. And the word to focus on here is appropriate.

Here's the difference. Think of positive human qualities like pride, sympathy, honesty or bravery. Can they all be taken to excess? Can people be too brave? Sure, we can be and sometimes are foolhardy. Can folks have too much pride? Isn't there something about "pride goeth before the fall"? Can we be too honest? If not, how come every adult and most children over ten understand the concept of "little white lies"?

Let's try the same thing with honor. Can a person be too honorable...can they display excess honor? Don't think so. You can act in a variety of ways depending on the situation and still act honorably. Reasonable works the same way. It allows you to use experience, judgment, intelligence and knowledge (together let's call these wisdom) to act in the best manner called for by the specific situation.

Unfortunately, I've participated in dozens of legal cases involving educational leaders and I've researched even more and one of the most common questions asked is "Was the response that was taken reasonable?" And since you're the leader, it will be your actions under question.

Think about all the different situations reasonable fits: goal setting (Aren't you looking for reasonable growth over a reasonable period of time?); professional growth for you or a team member; an error by you or a team member; or your response to a crisis.

Not bad, huh? So it's reasonable for me to strongly suggest that you learn the power of reasonable.

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