President's Corner

The Mouse and the Camel: A Leadership Tale


Courage: The ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. I’m sure you are able to share stories of courageous acts and identify courageous people from history and even from your own life.


For example, consider the heroic deeds of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who bravely tried to take their plane back from hijackers on Sept. 11, or the image of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Alabama — both courageous acts.

NeudeckePatricia E. Neudecker

The student who stands up to the class bully to defend a peer exemplifies courage at a young age. The determined patient who battles an incurable disease is a courageous fighter. Even the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz stories puts his fears aside and demonstrates bravery in the face of danger.

These examples of courage have at least two things in common: leadership and conviction.

We can learn about courage, leadership and conviction from stories and fables as well. One of my favorite tales was written by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. This is how it goes:

A mouse caught hold of a camel’s tether, and because the camel was walking along, the mouse began to feel very proud and big. “I am leading a camel,” the mouse said to himself and stuck out his chest and looked around to see if he was noticed.

The camel did notice the tiny mouse down there but said nothing as the mouse strutted proudly in the lead. Before long they came to a river, and the mouse halted.

“Lead on,” said the camel. “You are my guide.”

“I can’t cross that!” cried the mouse.

The camel stepped into the water and out again. “It’s not even up to my knees,” the camel observed. “Lead me on, master.”

“But that’s way over my head!”

“Climb up on my hump then,” said the camel. “Next time, don’t pretend to be in charge if you aren’t able to lead.”

I never have met a superintendent who wasn’t determined to lead, but like the mouse, those who lead often face challenges that require them to do more than simply guide the way. The fear of criticism, the pain associated with difficult decisions, the dangers that threaten the safety and well-being of the people we serve, the uncertainty of a global environment and intimidation by those who have different views than ours are examples of situations that require courageous leadership.

Courageous leadership develops over time. Our confidence grows with every issue we address. More importantly, being courageous requires us to reach deep into our core values, beliefs and principles of why we do the work we do. Courage requires conviction, and we must demonstrate that conviction with actions that speak louder than words.

Advocating for the needs of the children we serve, defending public education as a civil right, challenging unjust assumptions and inaccurate information about our schools, garnering the necessary resources required to meet challenging needs, joining critical conversations, admitting when we are wrong and even changing the way we always have done things all require courageous leadership.

Managers are successful when they do things right. Successful leaders do the right thing, and those actions require conviction and courage.

Like the camel and the mouse, we can approach deep waters, recognize the need for assistance and offer our unconditional support. However, if our words speak louder than our actions, we are only pretending to lead.

Courageous leadership is built on conviction, and conviction is a call to action. We all are called to act on behalf of the students and communities we serve. We all are called on to be courageous!

Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail: