GROWING AS GROWN-UPS
How do you lead when three global pandemics converge at one time? Dr. Stuart Gulley, president of the largest independent school in the continental United States, shares his journey of learning to lead through challenges. He has learned that we grow best as individuals when we can experience the world through the eyes of someone different than ourselves, and that truth seems more important now than ever. Dr. Gulley brings a wisdom and maturity to his leadership that serves as a model for us all.
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Frank Stuart Gulley, Ph.D., became the seventh president of Woodward Academy on July 1, 2009. President Gulley came to Woodward Academy from LaGrange College, where he served as president for 13 years. An ordained minister of The United Methodist Church, he also served in several administrative capacities at Emory University from 1986 until 1996, including the position of Associate Vice President for University Development and Church Relations.
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, President Gulley graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in Modern European History, cum laude, in 1983. After Vanderbilt, he attended Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, from which he earned the Master of Divinity degree, magna cum laude, in 1986. He completed the Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education degree at Georgia State University in 1999, which he began while working full-time at Emory University. He is the author of a book, “The Academic President as Moral Leader: James T. Laney at Emory University, 1977-1993,” published by Mercer University Press in 2001.
President Gulley’s community involvements include The Rotary Club of Atlanta and College Park First United Methodist Church. He serves on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, the Atlanta Airport West Community Improvement District, the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools, and the Georgia Independent School Association.
President Gulley met his wife, Kathleen Crenshaw Gulley, when both were master’s degree candidates at the Candler School of Theology. They are the parents of adult children Andrew and Matthew.
Woodward Academy is one of the largest college-preparatory school in the Continental U.S., with an enrollment of approximately 2,500 students. Established in 1900 as Georgia Military Academy, Woodward is the oldest independent school in Atlanta. For the last ten years, Woodward has consistently ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Top Workplaces program, out of 150 of Atlanta’s top companies. President Gulley has three times received the highest honor in the special award category for leadership in large organizations.
Sara: Hello and welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. I'm so excited to bring you my interview today with Dr. Stuart Gulley. I am Dr. Sara Musgrove and I have with me my co-host, Keith Eigel. Keith, you know and adore Stuart as well, he's been a long time friend of The Leaders Lyceum. For those who don't know Stuart, he is the President of Woodward Academy, which is the largest independent school in the continental United States, and it is here in Atlanta. Woodward, fun fact, has more students than the college that I went to. It is that big of an independent school. Before that, he was the President of LaGrange College. He's had a lot of other roles but Keith, I don't know if you know this about Dr. Gulley. I did a little research on him. Like I said, we've known him for over a decade, but he is a very humble man. Listen to these awards that he has received. In 2016 he was named the most admired CEO in Education. In 2018 he was the Educator of the Year. In 2019, he was named as one of the city's most powerful leaders in the Atlanta 500. So he is not just a friend of ours, he is not just the president of Woodward Academy, but he is recognized locally and nationally as a really amazing leader. And so, we had a really fun conversation.
Keith: I did not know some of those accolades, but it doesn't surprise me at all. Over the course of this podcast, we'll get more into Leader Levels in the kind of measurable places along the journey. But I think Stuart is one of the most developmentally mature leaders that we have ever had the pleasure of working with, just amazingly moving into level five territory. And for a guy that is just kind of finishing out his fifth decade, which I can relate to, he's a special character.
So I will come in at the end of this, but I think without any further ado, let's just jump in and listen to the interview and then we'll be back with our listeners as soon as it's over.
Sara: Dr. Stuart Gulley, we are so excited to have you with us as one of our premiere guests on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. You have been one of our most long term loyal clients. We've had the privilege of working with you for 10 years, which is just amazing. Compared to most of the guests we're going to have on our podcast you are one that we know the best and have been able to witness your life and your leadership over the past decade, which is such such a privilege for us. So just so our listeners know, we are recording this podcast on August 12th, which is a big day for you, right. So why don't you just kind of tell us what's happening at Woodward Academy right now where you are in the timeline of things? What's going on?
Stuart: Well, today is the first day for all of our new Woodward students. So we have an orientation that we do for all of our seventh grade students, our ninth grade students. And then families and the younger grades are doing registration at their schools. Tomorrow is the first official day of school, and we're off and running. It's hard to believe the time has arrived, but there's been a lot of effort to put into getting the school year started and a lot of excitement about what's ahead.
Sara: Well, knowing what a big week this is for you, I just want to say a big heartfelt thank you for taking the time out of your busy, busy schedule to speak with us and our listeners and share some of your leadership insights. So with that, you have been around us long enough to know that we are firm believers in the idea that the things that grow us the most in life are the challenges that we face. Right. That we grow and things are hard. And so that's what I really want to spend our time talking about, is how over the course of your leadership, the challenges that you have faced have shaped you into the leader you are today. So let me just start by asking you, as you look back over the course of your life, all of your different leadership experiences, what would you say has been one of the biggest challenges that you have faced?
Stuart: Well, if I think, the one example that occurs to me of a leadership challenge that I faced, particularly when I was a college president before I came to Woodward, but Woodward in its size and scope, is as large or larger than most small private liberal arts colleges, which is where I was before I came here, has been managing expectations of of people and particularly of faculty, especially in the collegiate setting where they have tenure. We don't offer tenure in the independent school world, but we typically treat our faculty as if they have tenure in the way that we compensate them and the openness that we have to their participation in the development of the curriculum and how it is taught. They're given considerable freedom. So it's really managing, and they're the front line folks so if they're not doing the job and doing it well, then the whole thing collapses. And so, you know, there's a particular example I could give from LaGrange College days about that. But I don't know if you want me to go into that detail, but this is, I would say, one of the great leadership challenges that I’ve faced.
Sara: Yeah, go a little more into that. Obviously, we don't need you to disclose any details about another person that maybe you want to be publicly broadcasted. But in terms of what you had to do, the challenge you faced, what was a little bit of the context that you were facing and then in that what was the hardest part of it for you?
Stuart: Well, in the college setting where I was and anyone who is familiar with Higher Ed knows the importance that tenure carries for faculty, and that it is a prized accomplishment that a faculty member seeks when hired on to an institution, and usually takes four to seven years to be achieved. So for reasons that will be too long for me to explain, when I went to LaGrange College, it had a fairly antiquated but yet court ordered settlement for how tenure was to be handled at the college. And there was a tenure committee of three individuals who were repeatedly elected by their fellow faculty to represent their interests in dealing with the institution. And over time, within just a few years of being there, I could see very clearly that for the college to really grow and expand and mature in the way that it needed to, it needed to be freed of the constraints of this particular policy. And so I initiated a process to develop a new tenure policy. Well, in the process of beginning conversation about that, which I knew would be controversial, the three members of the tenure committee of the old tenure policy came to see me, and they basically threatened to blackmail me if I carried on with the plan that I was on. And their blackmail was that they had gone to the 990, which is the tax document that all nonprofits are required to submit that are public record. And you have to list their the top salaries of the five top administrators of the institution, which, of course, in a collegiate setting, the president, unless you've got a football coach who's payed very well, is the top compensated person. And so they came and showed me all of this evidence from the 990 that not only exposed my salary, but given the way they were interpreting some of the data that had been applied there, it would have suggested that the college was being fiscally mismanaged, which was not true. But they basically said that if I committed to go forward with this than I was, they were going to go public with all of this information. I was less concerned about the salary because it is public and anybody could have seen it. But I was young, I never really experienced this kind of challenge before. The committee, those three men, were known for being pretty much bullies in the way that they handled administrations even prior to my coming on the scene. The Board Chair, who was a great support, just said, you know, they're just trying to needle you, Stuart, just ignore and move on and do what you need to do. But I broke out in a rash all over my body processing how to handle this and talking with my senior administrative team about what to do. But I finally was in a setting with some other college presidents where I had an opportune moment to share what I was going through and the exercise of sharing what I was experiencing was a kind of cathartic moment for me and provided me some insight from those individuals about how to handle that going forward. That gave me the courage and conviction that what I was intending to do was the right thing all along and that I should trust that I had already built up enough reserve of support for me within the community, that these people were known for who they were and that it was probably going to do more harm to them than it would to me. And so out of it, I accepted that counsel and with greater confidence moved forward. And we got a new policy adopted and they tried to do what they said that they were going to do. But I headed them off at the pass by having a public meeting where I brought out the 990 and I showed it to everyone and I said, this is my salary and this is how to interpret the data. So it really was not something that in the end they were able to damage me. If anything, it really sort of bolstered my standing in the community and diminished them in some ways as well.
Sara: Wow, that is crazy. Can I ask how old you were when you were in that situation?
Stuart: So I think this was two, maybe three years after I went to LeGrange. So I was 37 or 37 years old.
Sara: Oh, wow. So you were a pretty young leader at that time. Was this your first big leadership role?
Stuart: First, yeah. Certainly as a President it was the first role and it was the first big controversial matter that I was going to have to handle that had the potential to go public and become public, which of course it did. But just trying to think through, you know, the right way to approach this. And it's made me a much more politically savvy individual. I now can, when confronted with big issues, you know, I go not just to what is right, but what are the politics of this and how do we need to navigate the terrain so that we are managing whatever the the issue or matter is in a way that we are bringing people along with what we're working on.
Sara: Wow. So I want to ask if you can put yourself back in the shoes of yourself at that time as this 36 / 37 year old president of the university being thrown into this tense situation. And at the time, it's what it sounds like to me as you are torn between doing what you believed was the right thing for the university going forward. And, giving in to the pressure of these influential bully type people who are threatening to kind of publicly try to tarnish your reputation. Does that capture the tension a little bit or is there more to it that I miss?
Stuart: No, I think I think that would be accurate. I mean, in defense of them, they had fought hard to get the tenure policy in place under which we operate. And so they had some understandable conviction about it. But the tension between the way that that policy was limiting the growth of the institution and where we needed to go and how we could do that while also honoring that policy as well.
Sara: So would you say the hardest thing for you then was figuring out how to stay true to the thing that you believed was in the best interest of the college while also trying to lead these people who didn't quite see the path that you were leading them on. Was that the tension?
Stuart: Yeah, you know, before I came on the scene, there had been three other presidents before me who all knew about how limiting that tenure policy was, none of whom were willing to take on the battle or the challenge. They just felt like it was easier to keep peace. And I'm not criticizing them. They did very great things for the institution during their leadership there. But they concluded that it could just rock the boat so much as to really make their leadership untenable or bring other harm or challenge to the school. So it wasn't for the faint of heart to take this on. And I knew that it was going to have the potential to erupt in ways. And so that was the tension, trying to manage what I felt like would be a great outcome for the institution, but getting from where we were to that point was the real conundrum.
Sara: So as you know, that in the way that we approach leadership development, we really put an emphasis on this tension that you feel and not just external forces. Right. Not the policy and these three committee members that were fighting to keep it, but also what was happening within yourself. Right. So if you put yourself back in the shoes. Right. It was a few years ago. You've learned a lot since then about leadership. If you could look at the Stuart from those years, what would you say was holding yourself in place in terms of what was keeping you, or not keeping you because you went ahead with it, but causing you to be a little resistant or reluctant to just charge ahead? You know, what were you afraid of in those moments that maybe kept you awake at night?
Stuart: Well, I felt that I had, in the several years prior to this coming up, really worked hard to establish meaningful and healthy, trustworthy relationships with the faculty there. And I think maybe not to a person, but to the majority, they would have indicated that they felt like they had a level of connection with me and excitement about where the school was headed that I felt like could be at stake if the tenure committee acted on its promise. And that if that support went away, it could not only do harm to LaGrange College, but I could be out of a job. And I wasn't ready at that point to be out of work. And there was some skepticism about me being successful anyway because I was so young when I was appointed there to begin with, that this would have been the perfect example that someone could have pointed to, to say, you know, he was just too green and not experienced enough and never should have been put in that position to begin with.
Sara: Wow. So you definitely had a lot at stake. You had the relationship equity that you had built, the trust that you had built, which if that falls apart, your influence at the college in general could have fallen apart, which then could also have put a big roadblock in your career long term, right? Those are not small things, right?
Stuart: Hence the rash.
Sara: Wow. So now looking back at that experience from where you are today, how do you think that situation changed you and taught you about yourself and about leadership? You said earlier that it taught you to be a little more politically savvy in how you approach decisions. But even beyond that, in terms of who you are today, what influence did that challenge have on the Stuart Gulley of today?
Stuart: Well, I think one thing is that it taught me that I can't always know the answer to a challenge, and that collaboration is key. Surrounding yourself with trusted advisers or administrators, a team of people that you have confidence in and in whom you can confide that can help you think through a strategy for dealing with difficult and controversial subjects. And prior to that time, I probably was the kind of person that felt like, you know, I am young and maybe a bit naive, but I'm experienced enough that I should know the answers to all of this and just trust and lean on myself to get through it. So it's like going to see a psychologist or psychiatrist or a marriage and family therapist, that it's not a sign of weakness or failure if you do that, it’s really more a sign of strength and willingness to grow, that you seek out someone to be a sounding board and to offer counsel and direction. And so I think now, in every example I can think of of really challenging situations, not just try to rely on my own instinct, though I never deny that instinct, but I really try to check it with others that can give me a sense of whether or not I'm on the right track.
Sara: Oh, I love that so much. I think that's such an important lesson for people to hear, the honesty about our limitations, right. None of us have the complete view of a picture. We can't know all the factors. We can't see everything objectively. And the recognition that it's ok to invite people into the conversation. And the need that we have for these kind of safe, what we call developmental relationships, is really important. And yet something about our culture has just conditioned us to think that we need to put up these walls and these masks that that perpetuate this belief that I have it all together. I know all the answers. I can do this by myself. And I think the older we get, the more we're able to confidently say my qualifications as a leader are not predicated on the fact that I have to be able to do everything. It's that I know what I can do and I know how to invite somebody else into that conversation. So let's switch more now to the present situation that we are living in. I don't know what's happening at Woodward right now, but we are having a thunderstorm up here.
Stuart: I do see some thunderclouds so we may be getting some thunder as well.
Sara: It's fun up here. Things that happen when you record a podcast. Yeah, but we are living in a time where everything that we took for granted at the beginning of 2020 has now been flipped upside down. And what we talk about in the way that we teach leadership is that we have a lens through which we understand the world and that when that lens is challenged in some way, it's an opportunity for us to grow. So in terms of everything that has come at us globally, for you personally, and you as the President of Woodward Academy, you as Stuart the husband and father, all the roles that you play in life, what do you think is challenging you the most right now and forcing you to really evaluate the inadequacy of how you've understood the world up until this point?
Stuart: That's a great question. So I say here we're fighting three pandemic's. We're fighting the pandemic of covid-19. We're fighting an economic impact because covid-19 has presented challenges to us we had not anticipated in putting together our budget. So from a safety and security standpoint, financial aid for families standpoint, we're millions of dollars beyond our budget in terms of what we had anticipated when we set the budget for this year. And then we're facing the pandemic of racial injustice. As we know from the demonstrations that took place over the course of the summer, there were a lot of independent education Instagram accounts that were created at independent schools. So there was a Black@Woodward Instagram account where current students, former students, parents, all provided examples of how they felt like they had been treated through a racial lens. We even invited people to communicate directly to us, either anonymously or by identifying themselves. And to date, we have over 600 communications from families. Now, this runs the gamut from people who are not just black, but Jewish students, LGBTQ students who also feel like they had been discriminated against. And it's been a very sobering moment to realize that the deep respect for difference that we promote here has not maybe always been experienced in the way that we have pledged that it would.
So to get to your question, you know, as the enormity of all of this and even just one of these would be a career challenge, but the three of them is just extraordinary. And I guess if I'm honest, I would say that the thing that I’m most mindful of in terms of my own limitation right now as a leader is that I have not grieved. The sense of rapidity with which we have had to deal on all three fronts has not really provided the opportunity just to process the magnitude of it all in the sense of impact on me as an individual or me as the president of Woodward. I certainly have a sense of what's at stake in terms of the leadership that's required, and I hope that I'm providing that. But there is a moment at which I feel like the grief is going to become pretty palpable. And I'm not sure how I'm going to process that when that moment comes, and maybe don't want it to happen right now because I'm not sure I can work through it. And this is where, as an example, you'd say it would be great to have kind of a therapeutic relationship. And I would have to confess I've not sought that out. But in part because I'm just with my team and the governing board working so hard on all three fronts that it's really just a real challenge to carve out time to do much of anything. So maybe you're my catharsis.
Sara: Yeah, we'll see. We'll see how this goes. I mean, you're totally right. Like these three forces coming at us at once are just totally overwhelming. And like you said earlier, it's just day by day. Like there's so much to deal with that you just have to face it day by day. But the foresight that you have to recognize that at some point in the future, there's this grieving that probably needs to happen. It's such an interesting answer. I'm wondering what you think is the importance of going through that process, of allowing yourself to sit with the emotion of everything that's been going on. What benefit would that grief serve?
Stuart: Well, I think, you know, if you look at the stages of dying, you know, to get to acceptance, you do have to go through that period of denial, which we certainly were in in the spring. And eventually there is that period of grief that you go through as well that gets you to the place of acceptance and a sense of hopelessness and moving forward. So I just think it's a part of human nature that you have to do it and the organization itself has to do that as well. And I've tried in my public pronouncements with our community, and I've given several statements over the last few weeks, most of them related to COVID. Now I've got some statements I'm going to be having to make related to racial injustice. And these are very fraught conversations. Just the enormity of the fear and the uncertainty and the anger that people are carrying. So in a way, I'm trying as a leader to help people manage their own emotions in all of this. McKinsey came through and published an article on leadership during this time, and it talks about the role of the leader moving people from fear to hope. And so to be able to do that in a meaningful way, knowing that people are coming at all of these issues from very different perspectives and concerns, particularly on the front of racial injustice, where there are people who were legitimately pointing out the injustice that they have experienced because of their race. And then there are people who are very conservative, who are white, who think that this is all politically motivated and it's just a tactic and we're getting in when we acknowledge the injustice that has occurred. So the landscape is very fraught right now. And navigating it in a way that you come out on the other side of this is really challenging. You know, I'm mindful, I have been especially over the last six months, that the role of a leader is at times to determine when has their effectiveness as a leader been exhausted or when is it about to be. And I don't think I'm there yet, but I do think not just for me at Woodward, but I think presidents of independent schools, heads of school presidents, colleges, universities, the CEOs of corporations. I don't see that if you're in office currently managing the magnitude of what you're going through, a day is going to have to come when for the growth and health of the organization going forward, you're going to have to step aside so that new blood can come in and take over. That's true in any case. But I think at this moment, the question is how long can leaders in my role really lead with a great deal of effectiveness? And so that's that's certainly been on my mind as I think about the next year or two in terms of how I try to lead Woodward through and when is the right moment to say to the community, you know, I've done what I can do and it's time to let somebody else take over.
Sara: Wow. I mean, that's a lot, and thank you so much for sharing all that. And there's two big things that I think I took away from what you just said. So I want to kind of reflect it back to you and you tell me if I captured kind of the two essences that I heard from what you were saying. And the first goes back to this idea of grieving. What's happening in the world and what's happening specifically in the Woodward community as these potential blind spots have been brought to your attention through these different communications and social media outlets. That it's important to allow yourself to feel it and then lead in a way that encourages others to be able to sit with that. But then kind of the process through the grief is to get to a hope on the other side. That you're able to lead in a way that is authentic and inviting and welcoming of different perspectives so that as a community you can find the hope in the midst of this chaos. And then the second piece connects with that is kind of this awareness of with the hope, paying attention to what kind of leader it's going to take to lead the Academy into that future. And in your honest self reflection of how far can I take this? And I think your humility and your openness in this to me communicates you still have a lot of leverage there at Woodward that you can bring and help lead the school through this time. Nobody has led through this time before. So it's not like there is other people waiting in the wings of any organization to say, I've done this, I'll come in and do it. But that balance of I want to make sure that the best interests of the school is what is prioritized, whether or not it's with me leading them or with somebody else. And that balance of staying tuned into how effective you are able to be at leading that organization. So I knew I just threw a lot back at you. But does that, do those two things kind of feel like the heart of what you are saying?
Stuart: Absolutely. Thank you. I wish I had said it that way, but yeah.
Sara: So one of our favorite questions to ask, and you've heard us say this before I believe. At the end of all this, whatever that end may be, five years, you know, let's just hope in five years we figured some of this out. When you look back, or when other people look back at how you led through this time, what is the story that you want told about your leadership?
Stuart: Well, to use some of your language, I hope people feel like that I have been authentic and transparent. When I was inaugurated here as President of Woodward, I pledged that that was going to be my commitment, that I would be transparent with them in my dealings, and I've tried to be true to that. And of course, that doesn't mean that people agree with me all the time. But I think that people support me because they know where I'm coming from and that I'm being honest with them. And so I hope that it would be said that I put the interests of the Academy first. I made health and safety our priority but that the commitment of Woodward to practice a deep respect for difference was a very close second. I talk often here about how we grow best as individuals when we experience the world through the lens of someone different from ourselves. And I really believe we foster that environment here. But obviously we've got some work to do on how we're accomplishing that. And obviously we're hearing from a lot of our community about how they need us to change our lens so that we can experience the world through their eyes in a way that maybe we haven't up to this point. So on the other side of all of this, when my time here has ended, I hope that that is what people would say. I like to quote a saying from Max De Pree, who's the former CEO of the Herman Miller company. He has done a lot of writing on servant leadership, and he wrote a book titled Leadership Jazz. And in the book, he defines leadership. He says the role of the leader, the first role of the leader, is to define reality. The last role of the leader is to say thank you. In between, the leader is to be a servant. And I've tried my best in terms of transparency to define reality, especially in this moment in ways that people never imagined and certainly may not necessarily like hearing. But it is the world that we're in right now. I just spent the last several days walking through every one of our five schools trying to see every faculty member that I can and to say thank you to them for what they're doing under these extraordinary circumstances as they anticipate the start of the new year. And then in between, I just depend on my senior team and my comment to them usually is, what do you need me to do? What obstacle can I move out of your way? Or how can a counsel or guide you on the challenges that you're dealing with? So if people say that I have done that when that time comes, that I will feel like I have hopefully left something of a legacy.
Sara: Such a beautiful description of leadership and so true to who I know you to be.
So here's the hard part, here's the hard question, and this is that when we think about the opportunity for growth, that this colliding of crises is presenting to you. And when you think about what it's going to take in that internal struggle that whatever it is you're feeling right now, that you're going to have to push through and overcome. Just like back at LaGrange College, it was learning to kind of trust your instincts, to lead with integrity and not be afraid of the jeopardy that your reputation as a leader was facing. Do you see right now, you know, if you were to really fully lean in, and we'll just take the the racial issue right now because that is the most like close to home, it seems like and the most sensitive of the topics. And you said people are pushing you to kind of change the way that Woodward is engaging in this matter. If you were to go all in, what is the fear behind that or the thing that you're maybe resistant to or reluctant of, or what could be at stake for you as a leader as you lead through this one part of the crisis going on right now?
Stuart: Well, you know, it's maybe not dissimilar to the way you summarize what I was experiencing at LaGrange with the example I used there. In this moment, is there a way to offer a statement as well as policies and practices that can bring disparate people a sense of wholeness and togetherness? And sadly, we live in a culture right now that is so deeply torn and divided, the fragmentation is just to the point of not repairable, it seems to me, at least with what's on the horizon, if you look from a political standpoint, I'm not I'm not taking sides, Democrat or Republican.
Sara: It's really daunting.
Stuart: But I do feel that part of what we're experiencing at Woodward is this fragmentation and the larger society that we may not have experienced 8 or 10 or 15 years ago in the way that it is just so enormously intense right now. The sense of tribalism and individualism that exists makes for a culture that really is not all that interested in knowing the lens of somebody different from themselves. And so I think the role for me in all of this is to indicate that this has been a part of our DNA for nearly 120 years and that we need to be committed to the process that we're on. And if there are people who can't stay with us, then that's a regrettable loss for them and for us. But this is a moment where I don't think we're going to be able to keep everyone on board. I think we've got to be prepared for some people to say that they just are not comfortable with the direction that we are headed. And so out of that then becomes what is the loss to the institution financially in terms of tuition dollars from families or donors? What is the damage to me, reputationally and my own effectiveness as a leader. So this sort of gets to the point that I was making earlier. You know, I think in these environments that there may be a limit to where a person in the role I'm in right now can take the organization and it may take a new personality coming in to go to the next level on these. But that would be my fear, worry would be just the continuing fragmentation at Woodward if I don't handle this right.
Sara: Yeah, gosh, no pressure, Stuart. So, you know, it seems like, again, there's this big tension, right? There’s this desire that I know you have to lead authentically and to serve the good of the institution and the families in the community that are connected to Woodward, and to be a source of coming together and finding unity and respecting people of all different backgrounds. Right. Like that would be in that legacy category you mentioned of the type of leader that would just be who you want to be. And then we have the risk of if I take steps in that direction, how many people am I going to offend along the way? And what cost does that have? And then there's this other piece that's, you know, the harder thing to sit with, wrestling with am I even the leader that can lead through that time? And I think you being able to hold those things all at the same time and say, ok, right, we talk about it in our curriculum of taking these steps and leaning into the tension and saying, I'm going to take one step towards being this kind of leader that does try to reveal these blind spots and listen to different voices and create more honor and respect and welcome for people of all backgrounds at our organization. Knowing that I'm going to hurt some people's feelings, that I'm going to offend some people. How do I take a step without totally blowing things up and all while measuring the effectiveness of your strategies and the fact that you learned back at LaGrange the importance of bringing in other voices, right, that this is not all on your shoulders. I know you have a great group of people helping you lead the Academy to speak into that. But, you know, I think you do have a big challenge ahead of you. I think you have such a great opportunity to leave the legacy that you desire to leave, as you wrestle through that tension every day, right. I mean, the beauty, as I know you well enough to know that you are not going to let your desire for your reputation and protecting this sense of I thought we were doing a good job, let me defend how I've been leading so far. That's not going to stop you from moving forward in solving these problems. But paying attention along the way of what are the things that you're going to bump up against. Right. As you start making these statements of the reality that that you're in right now, right, that you love that idea of kind of defining the reality and getting the backlash from that. What are the things that kind of raise up that worry in you of can I really do this? And then you, you know, taking that stand and saying I'm going to be the kind of leader who does what is right and if if that involves bringing in new leadership or new influences, if that's what it takes, I'll do that without just giving up right now. Right. I think there's leaders of organizations around the world that are saying, I didn't sign up for this, I can't do this. I'm out. And you've not chosen to do that?
Stuart: Well, I would be willing to stop growing if we could get to some normalcy. A couple of thoughts just occurred to me based on just what you've said. One is sort of what has helped me navigate all of this is that I have been extraordinarily blessed with a strong team of leaders. The senior team of vice presidents, the principles of our school, the people who are overseeing our covid response. Without them, I just could not do this. So their support, my wife's support who is greatly frustrated with me because she finds me very quiet at home at nights and wants me to reveal more of my struggle and challenge. She wants to feel more included. And you know, when I get home, that's the last thing I want to talk about. So she's probably suffered in this more than I have. And to the extent that she's got any aches and pains, she's probably carrying my aches and pains just because she knows what I'm dealing with. And then a governing board that has been so supportive, I'm just grateful to them for what they are doing to back us and to be real players on this. But to use your example, if we go to the covid situation, I made an address to our faculty the other day. You know, we've got some faculty who are gung ho, let's go. Some who were a little reticent, and then there are some who were just downright angry that I can't just see all the data that's out there and shut the damn place down. That's what you need to do. And I said, I know that there are those of you who are mad as hell at me. And I said, honestly, if the roles were reversed, I might feel the same way. But this is the reality we're in. Well, today we had a science teacher in our high school walk in and tender her resignation immediately because she just cannot bring herself to be exposed to the virus, despite the fact that we've been talking about this now for two months. So we begin a faculty member down and we begin classes on Friday. So those are the realities that we're dealing with. And there may be more like her before it's all said and done.
Sara: Yeah. And I actually was having a conversation with your executive assistant this morning about the importance of just having grace for everybody. Right. Like you as the leader have to take the stand and that teacher needs to have grace for you and the decision you're making. And you need to have grace for her in recognizing, you know, alright I get it, you don't want to be here. And it's so hard, right. Grace is, as I think you know, one of my things I've been working on over the years. Learning to have more grace for people and for myself. And I think it's just a world that we live in that everybody's doing the best that they can do. And we got to just roll with it and say, ok, she's out, got to find a new teacher by Friday morning.
Let me ask you this question as we kind of start wrapping things up. And I would love to just sit here for hours and ask you more questions, but I know you have a school to lead here. But you are a very experienced leader. You have some big roles and some big experiences in your belt. So if you have an opportunity through this podcast to speak a word of advice or encouragement to leaders who are earlier on the journey, what would you want to tell them to help them navigate through whatever challenges they are facing right now?
Stuart: Well, I think there's real truth in the leader levels that you all talk about, and there is the need for us to know where we are on that continuum of leader level and what we want to aspire to be as a leader, which obviously would be the level five leader. And one of the things that you all shared early on that I wasn't aware that I had been doing it in my life, but I am much more conscious about it now and continue to do, is that if you're not a level five leader, think of someone who is that you know and admire and try to emulate them. And to the extent that you can actually take them into your confidence. And I've been fortunate to have several of those in my life, and even before I knew anything about leader levels or Leaders Lyceum when I was at the LaGrange, I really credit a lot of what I did there to the mentorship that I received from Jim Laney, who was the president of Emory University, and I wrote my dissertation about his leadership at Emory. And while LaGrange is on a different scale than Emory, there was a lot about what Jim did at Emory that I could carry and did carry with me to LaGrange, that looking back, I can see how how blessed and fortunate I was to have him as an example and occasional person that I could talk to. So for aspiring leaders, I would say, you know, find those role models out there of people that you feel like are doing the work in a way that is meaningful and model yourself after them and try to get to know them to the extent that you can. And recognize that growing as a leader is a process. It's not something that just happens overnight. You can't just say, well, this is my personality and now I'm going to be a level five leader. There is, you know, growth and wisdom and experience that all contribute to where you end up on the continuum. That, and then just engaging in an intentional relationship. Not just with somebody at a level five leader, but someone like Leaders Lyceum or an intentional cross mentoring group that you created on your own to kind of help guide you. Or being in a conversation with an executive coach or a therapist of some sort, I think is a sign of health and a way to really help yourself grow.
Sara: Yeah, we were definitely not made to do this alone. So I love that. And wouldn't it be great if there is just a magic pill that could just make us fully developed and we don't have to deal with these challenges?
So just because of your role, really quick. Any advice you would give to parents? Because probably a lot of our listeners, they are leaders at home with their children as well as leaders in their profession. So, as the President of Woodward Academy, any advice to the parents out there trying to get ready for this crazy school year?
Stuart: It's tough. And I feel for families with young children particularly, or even high school students. And just the challenge of deciding, do you send your child or do you keep them at home? You may have a sense of your ability from the spring about being able to manage with the child at home. But here we have a third of our families who've decided to keep their children at home for the time being to learn remotely which we're offering to them. So there's not a right or wrong answer. It's the answer that you feel is best for your family. And so you've really, I think, just got to trust your instincts, recognizing that whatever choice you make, as you were suggesting earlier, you need to go into it with a degree of openness and grace that will allow for the inevitable thing to go awry. Whether it's the Internet going down or a faculty member maybe not responding immediately on something. I think we are at a moment where we need to give everybody some grace, some some distance in terms of feeling the enormity of our emotion about a particular matter. But encourage your child and do all that you can to support them in getting the kind of not only intellectual benefit that they need, but there's also the social emotional piece. And so if they’re remote to find ways that are safe for them to also have their social emotional needs tended to as well.
Sara: Yeah, such good advice as a stepmom, I need to take all that in myself. We are not wired in my family to do virtual school, so I'm hoping that our school stays open as long as they can.
So last question. Just as we wrap up and hopefully our listeners have been really encouraged and inspired by you. Is there anything in your world that's going on right now that's exciting that people can follow along with, follow you on Twitter or I mean, what's what's going on in your world that we can track with that you're excited about?
Stuart: Well, go to the website every day and you'll see how we're managing with our opening of school with covid. There are statements there about what we're doing on the race front, as well as announce that we're going to be conducting a webinar at the end of the month for any in our community that want to listen in on what we have been discussing here and some concrete steps that we're taking. But I feel that we describe Woodward as being Atlanta at its very best. The level of diversity here, in every respect imaginable, represents the diversity of Atlanta. And when we are operating on all cylinders and we're doing the best we can, I really believe that we are a model for the city, if not the nation. And so how we navigate this virus, I think we've done everything we can from a health and safety standpoint to make it possible for teachers and students to be here who want to be. And then on the race front, just the whole commitment to inclusion here. We've clearly got work to do, but we're committed to it. And we're going to be a better and stronger version of Woodward and a better representative of Atlanta in the process. So while I do have concerns about where we are going to end up in the future, I am very optimistic in our people and the work that they're doing and our commitment to this work, that we are going to come out of all of this in a much better place. And so I'm grateful to have the chance to visit with you and share a little bit about what our journey is like right now.
Sara: It is a gift to us so thank you so much. And I am excited to track along with you how things are going over this school year and watch what you're doing to lead through this. So thank you for your time and your wisdom and your authenticity. You have been such a gift to us at the Lyceum, I know Keith and I both just think the world of you. So we really appreciate you giving your time to us for this podcast.
Stuart: So I couldn't not do it, given my admiration and appreciation for the two of you. So thanks for the relationship and for the opportunity to visit with you.
Sara: All right, Stuart, we wish you the best in this upcoming school year.
Keith: Oh, my gosh, Sara, he's great. You know, I think as we get into these debriefs, there's some things that we want to draw attention to that we want the audience to pay attention to. And hopefully this won't mean going back and re listening to it. Hopefully you'll just remember some of these spots. But I tell you, there were a couple of things that really struck me during this time. First of all, and I mentioned this on the way into the interview, just his level of developmental maturity, his knitting together this bigger picture in a way that is not about how do I manage differences, but how do I actually celebrate and recognize the unity to all the diversity that we have brought to the table. And I think this is important. This is not just a leadership skill, it is like a way of seeing the world. It is the lens which he sees the world through and from just a measurable developmental maturity standpoint, Stuart is in rarefied air. I mean, not many people get there.
Sara: Yeah. He on several occasions talked about the value of bringing together people with different perspectives, different groups, and how that is such a passion of his and this the sense of wholeness that that we are not complete unless we are together as a whole. I think it's just such a beautiful picture. And for him to be leading this school in Atlanta that is such a diverse city, I think is just the lens through which you would hope that leader would have.
Keith: Yeah. And I think the quote from that time was experiencing the world through the lens of someone different than you.
Sara: Yeah, I wrote that down as well, that we grow best as individuals when we experience the world of somebody different than ourselves.
Keith: Yeah. You know, so many of the listeners that I imagine tuning into this podcast are not at a point in the journey that Stuart is at. Right. He is in a small minority of leaders, even leaders older than he is, that have gotten to this place on the journey. But it is actually in hearing someone's story like Stuart’s story that I think it gives us hope earlier in our journey. I mean, one of the things that really jumped out at me is the contrast between the challenges that he faced at LaGrange as a 36 / 37 year old president, and the way he is making sense of the challenges that he's facing right now, which are arguably a thousand fold, right. What he dealt with in dealing with some difficult tenured faculty. But I highlighted a couple of things that so much of what was at stake for him during that period of time were things about him. He had invested in and developed some great relationships. Right. He could be out of his job. Right. And he had a young family and there was the kind of financial considerations. But also he already knew there was some skepticism about him coming in. And it was like defending his worth. So all of these things that were at stake, as he needed to decide what to do in the middle of that challenge, were about him. And I think what I want the listeners to know is, look at where he is now. When you're feeling to yourself like, oh, my gosh, I'm wondering what they're going to think of me. Or gosh, these circumstances are just defining me, I don't even know who I am anymore. And I'm overstating it a little bit the way people might state it. But there are all of these outside forces kind of coming in and I feel like, well, if those don't stay in alignment, is my whole world going to fall apart. So I don't know, just strike you during the interview?
Sara: Yeah. I mean, I love the parallels between the two stories he told because both of them are about what's doing right for the organization. And you can see the threads of Stuart’s personality and his values in both stories. But you're right, there was more of a fear in the early career story where it was, what is this going to do to me? What are the consequences going to be for me if I take this stand? And then with Woodward, he said something at the end that I just thought, really, captured that difference where he says that he's worried about the continuing fragmentation of Woodward if I don't handle this right. That has nothing to do with, you know, what his next position might be or what his retirement plan is going to be. It's what will happen to this community and in Atlanta if I don't do this right. But not in a sense of him leading it, it's just if we don't solve this problem for Woodward. I thought it was such a beautiful picture of that developmental journey that he's been on.
Keith: Yeah. I mean, I made a note. It wasn't quoting him, but he made a note that any version of what's in it for him is no longer the fear. Right. That's a thing of the past. And just as an encouragement for people who can't feel that right now, again, episodes in the future, and will have to let this unfold, but for many people, that's a healthy place to be on the developmental journey. Depending a little bit on their age, a little bit on their experience, but it's ok to be there. What's not ok is not muscling through the challenge, right. Not finding outside sources that you can trust. That was even in one of his pieces of advice for people going forward is to find people further along the journey than you are that you want to be like. The importance of that, not so that they will define who you are, but so that you can begin to own who you are. And again, what a great way to just start out this whole series.
Sara: Yeah. And when we think about what the developmental tasks are of people at different stages of the journey, you know. In his mid 30s, I just can't even imagine being the president of a university. I mean, he was younger than I am and having to take this on. But his challenge was really coming to an understanding and a groundedness as to who he was as a leader. Right. And you could see early on the authenticity and the transparency that are so important to him. But that pull to, I want to do what's best for the growth of the college in terms of this tenure policy. But it was him really learning to take a stand on that and stand up against those outside forces. Now, his step where he is moving more into that Level Five leadership is recognizing his own limitations, the inadequacy of his ability to lead this organization. And to hear him talk about that with both the confidence of I still have something to offer, but I'm not going to be able to lead this forever.
Keith: There is going to be a time for me to step down.
Sara: Yeah. In order to reach the goal for this community that is so valuable. It's not about me anymore. It's about kind of pulling together these perspectives like it's just so great. And it shows that the steps and the obstacles that we have to overcome at different parts of our journey are based in overcoming our status quo and how we've done things and moving more into maturity of perspective. Both becoming more grounded in who we are and then loosening our grip and saying there's more than just me in this equation.
Keith: Hey, I got a feeling that will wind up having a talk similar to this at the end of a lot of these conversations. But, you know, for the folks that are listening, paying attention to what's not easy for you right now, right, paying attention to the challenges you're facing and not figuring out how to put them in a box or sweep them under the rug. But to embrace the frustration. Not embrace the complaint, as we've talked about so often. Nobody likes complainers, so we're not embracing the complaint to say let's be negative. We're embracing it because it points to the us that we want to be that's bigger than what we are right now. And Stuart’s story did such an incredible job illustrating that. We've actually got a tool that people can walk through. Right. We call it the Growth Gap Tool but it's five simple steps. Actually, it's not simple. But there are only five steps. And it is a chance to think through what's the biggest frustration in my world right now and what does that tell me about the me that I want to be, the bigger me that's waiting out there. How am I holding myself in place from getting there? And how can I begin to take small steps that will put me on the journey to grow intentionally? So, you know, people can go right, Sara, to the Growing as Grown-Ups website.
Sara: Yeah, if you go to www.growinggrownups.com, they'll be a link on that homepage for the podcast. But if you want to go straight there, www.growinggrownups.com/GGT. We will have that resource available for you for free as well as a document that will help walk you through the process so you can know how to answer those questions and really get the insight. It's going to be an adaptation of a chapter from the book that you and Karl wrote called The Map. I think it will be a really good resource to anybody who is having the desire to lean into these challenges and let it grow them. Not just be a victim of their circumstances, but really say, I want to be the author of the story that's told of me through whatever I'm facing right now. I want to become more the person I want to be and not keep getting in my own way. So we'd love for you to go get that resource. We are offering it to you for free, so please go grab it.
Keith: So good. All of that will be reflected in the show notes as well.
So until the next time we see you, lean in.