"The Second-Round Interview (Finalist?!)
There was one school, however, who had several interviews with me. For the second-round interview, I was downright grilled. In the negative sense. There were two trustees who grilled me, a man and a woman. It was a classic "good cop, bad cop" routine. The man was affable and spoke loftily of education, while the woman put my toes right to the fire about fundraising, and what kind of gifts I had landed. I felt emboldened by this exchange, and I asked some exceedingly pointed questions. As it turned out, they were at a point in their history...their financial history...that the school was in a make-it or break-it position, which would take only one to three years to work itself out. They needed to raise a lot of money quickly, and they had been having little success. Given what independent schools (as a whole) were experiencing with the fallout of the financial crisis, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the financials of this school. We had a great conversation, however (despite the toes-to-the-fire routine), and I received an e-mail later that evening, inviting me to be one of two finalists on campus sometime in the next two weeks. First, I was offended to be invited by e-mail. Second, I didn't answer. I waited almost 36 hours before responding..."No, thanks." Simply put, I wasn't going to let my first (potential) headship be marred by economic uncertainties of the magnitude that they were experiencing. I had had enough of that at my own school. To be sure, I was absolutely flattered that they would invite me to be a finalist. However, I knew enough to trust 1) the data and 2) my own gut. It would have been a poor choice for me, even if the "fit" may have been a good one. Of course, they didn't offer housing and the overall compensation package, given the marketplace, was very low. That made no sense for my family.
Although I won't allocate much space to it here, if you have a family, put them at the center of each and every discussion you're having. You need to make sure that their life will be good, and that the expectations the board has of you aren't untenable. You need family time, and you need to make that known up front. Pursuing a headship is almost like pursuing a second spouse/partner; it is that intimate and time-consuming (in a good way). Balance is key, and your family needs to know that there will be times when you will lack the balance you desire.
Reassembling the Pieces
I would be lying if I didn't admit a certain level of disappointment when I wasn't advanced. Yes, I felt affirmed and learned what I needed to do next, but I felt disappointed, sad, and I had a bit of the "I'm not good enough" syndrome.
Reassembling the pieces, post-search, took more time than I would have anticipated. I needed to "forget" the search process for several months, before returning mentally to that period of time. After several months (read here: after you have rejuvenated), you have a clearer mind and a better way by which to revisit and examine the search process.
In other words, the search process highlights your own humanity to you.
It is important to engage continually in retrospection, but engagement is different from dwelling on it (that's negative). You end up investing serious hours and real emotions and energies in a head search. "It's a good thing," as Martha Stewart says, yet it continues to challenge you as you move through the next steps on your path toward headship, if indeed you still feel (as do I) that headship still makes sense to you, although you may have a greater appreciation of the time you want/need before proposing yourself as a candidate once again.
What I find most interesting right now is that consultants are calling me, asking if I'd be interested in applying for headships. I've had three calls this fall (all in November, actually), and they were direct results of my having forged good, strong relationships with these consultants. As I said earlier in this exceedingly-long missive, I understood that establishing a good rapport with consultants would be key, going forward. I was up front with each of them, stating how interesting the school appeared to me, but that I knew--from my experiences last year--that I need more "maturation in bottle." I needed a few more challenges, and I was looking in particular for something with direct reports. At the same time, we agreed to remain in regular contact. And that's as it should be. Schools are about people, and relationships are about people. As in development, people give money to people they know, and that holds true, I think, in the world of headship searches. Relationships are important, and that's the best advice I can give to any aspiring head who is thinking of dipping his/her toes in the water, as I did: it's all about relationships, including the one you have with yourself and your family!"
Thank you Kevin for your fascinating posts!