A final farewell from Dr. Jones...
Dr. William Jones, Head of School, retired June 30, 2018. The STS community greatly appreciates Dr. Jones’ extraordinary efforts during his tenure at the School. In his 18-years at STS as Senior School Principal, then as Head of School, he created an environment in which students, faculty, and staff have flourished. The STS community sincerely thanks Dr. Jones for his extraordinary service and wishes him well in his future endeavors.
At a retirement event held in his honour, Dr. Jones shared these words:
“A few months ago I was reading an article for a university course that I was taking. The article was about the conditions in which leaders and CEO’s operate today, which it referred to as “constant white water.” I’ve now been in leadership roles for close to three decades, and I can’t say that I really accept this metaphor of continuous turbulence. I can think of at least three or four days that were relatively calm since 1992. But it did get me thinking about a similar metaphor of leadership, which I think you STS outdoor types might relate to. I began thinking about leadership as being something like paddling a canoe down an unfamiliar river. So bear with me while I unpack this a little.
In leadership, as in river canoeing, there is a current that is always moving you forward. Sometimes it is gentle and manageable and allows you the luxury of surveying the conditions and terrain and thinking carefully about your next maneuver. At other times, this current is moving so swiftly that you simply draw on your experience and intuition, almost subconsciously, and simply react. Intermittently, there are calm sections when the river widens out and you can simply drift along and navigation requires a minimal effort. There is time to think, to reflect - to enjoy the scenery.
As you move down the river, you encounter tributaries that enter the main channel. These are sometimes crystal clear springs that breathe life into the river. In leadership, these are like the fresh ideas that people bring to the table, often broadening the leader’s perspective. In the river though, some of these tributaries are muddy. They make the river murky, more complex and more difficult to interpret. Other tributaries are crystal clear in appearance, but they contain invisible contaminants. In leadership, these are the hidden agendas or the misleading intentions.
There are other challenges that the river holds for paddlers in the form of standing waves, rapids, whirlpools, log jams and sweepers. These represent challenges for the leader, but their successful navigation over time (even with the odd capsize) help to build experience, skill and confidence that help the leader to deal more effectively with the next challenge and enhance her skill set.
Some days, when you arrive at the water to launch your canoe, you discover that the conditions are much different than you anticipated. Perhaps the water level has risen abruptly due to an upstream rain storm or because they opened the floodgates on an upstream dam to lower the reservoir level. You didn’t expect that and it may mean you need to modify your well-conceived plan or abandon it completely.
Occasionally, an island parts the channel and requires a decision about whether to go left or right. Sometimes if the sightlines are good, you have enough information to make a good decision. At other times, you must make the decision with limited visibility using your gut to decide and hoping you have chosen the better route.
And finally, there are a few terrible days on the river. Like when you are drifting through a slow-moving calm section and you come around a blind corner and see before you a sudden, drastic narrowing of the channel just before it drops over a steep waterfall. You have no time to react, the current has you in its grip and it hurls you over the falls. You capsize and your gear is strewn about. You feel a sense of panic as you struggle to get to shore. You are shaken, terrified – maybe even hurt.
As leaders, we hope that these days are few and far between as these situations often involve unexpected and sudden loss or serious consequences. We are then left picking up the pieces, salvaging what is left, helping people to heal and regroup and trying to find the way forward. It may feel like we are rolling along the rocks on the bottom of the river and trying to figure out which way is up. These experiences make us want to sell the canoe and stay on dryland for the rest of our lives. And yet, we somehow manage to find new learnings and meaning in these profound and challenging experiences – always hoping they will never be repeated.
In retirement, I look forward to deciding whether or not I want to put my canoe in the water on any given day, how far I would like to go, and whether or not I might like to stop for a cool beer. I look forward to exchanging my suit and tie for a Gortex jacket and spending more of my day outdoors than indoors. I look forward to holding a flyrod in my hand instead of a cell phone and sitting on a bike seat more often than an office chair. And I look forward to teaching and chasing around my own grandchildren.”
Farewell and best wishes from Dr. Jones:
I would like to say that I have felt honoured and privileged to have been entrusted with the leadership of this amazing school. It is normal for us all to think of legacies as we wrap up our careers. But in the end, all that we can hope to do during our tenure, is to pick up the ball where we find it, move it down the field toward the goal, and then hand it off to the next person so they can carry it forward. I hope that I have done that, and it has been a pleasure to run with such a remarkable team.
The School is in very capable hands with Carol Grant-Watt as the incoming Head of School and I would like to offer her my congratulations and support. We have been working together to ensure a smooth transition and I’m sure we will continue to do that once she settles in.
I will always follow the progress of STS with great interest in the years ahead and I look forward to witnessing the amazing accomplishments of its alumni, current and future students.