Speak Eagle

Inclusive Leadership & the Narwhal

My son raised his hand. “I think our mascot should be the narwhal.” 

jonathan giving opinion at meeting

“The narwhal? Now that’s an interesting idea,” Kari Miller, the new principal of a future local middle school, smiled.

I try to picture a logo sporting a whale with a 9-foot overgrown canine tooth and realize there’s a risk to being an inclusive leader- a leader who invites opinions and encourages others to let their voices be heard. But Miller is taking the risk.

She recently invited a few families from our community to meet in the current middle school library and vote on colors and a mascot for Mill Creek Middle School, which is scheduled to be completed next year.

middle school meeting

Being a part of the discussion felt empowering- like I actually had a say in the future of our school. And I could tell my boys felt the same way.

My 6-year old said, “I think neon green should be one of our colors.” A girl piped up, “Yeah, that would really POP!” We divided into small groups and wrote our ideas for color combinations on big pieces of paper, then stuck them to the walls and voted by raising our hands.

mascot choices2Mascot ideas, printed on posters, were also stuck to the wall and we were given colored stickers to vote on our favorites. The Monarchs, Magic, Musketeers, even the Mudpuppies had a poster. My boys couldn’t believe they got to help choose their future mascot. One son said, “I feel so important!”

Having taught a master’s level class in Organizational Communication at Williamson College over the summer, I was impressed. Top-down management styles make decisions without the input of their subordinates, suffering a lack of engagement and ethical moorings in the long run. But here was a middle school principal using smart communication principles- involving her community in these early decisions, which will undoubtedly lead to us being engaged and loyal to OUR school.

parent involvement slideIt reminded me of one my favorite management articles titled, “Leadership is a Conversation.” Authors Groysberg and Slind talked with employees at nearly 100 companies and found that leaders who “cultivate the art of listening” to create a culture that values a “bottom-up exchange of ideas,” foster the kind of trust that leads to a high level of engagement and organizational loyalty.

That means we might even be willing to volunteer for things. Like the PTO.

PTO mtgIn the past 8 years my kids have been in school, I’ve never been a part of the PTO. Not because I’m averse to the idea; I’ve just had other things that took priority. But this morning I went to my first-ever PTO meeting, thanks to Miller and her inclusive leadership style.

While we probably won’t be adopting the narwhal as our official school mascot (and believe me, I’m okay with that), a new thing is happening in our community and I’m glad to be a part of it.


Are you a leader with an inclusive communication style? Or do you know one? I would love to hear your experience. Please share it on social media or comment here.