In medieval days, a knight dressed in full armor which included gauntlets, leather gloves with an extended cuff that covered part of the forearm. When a knight wanted to challenge a fellow knight or enemy to a duel, he would throw one of his gauntlets on the ground. If the opponent wished to accept the challenge, he would pick up the gauntlet and the battle would begin.
What does a medieval tradition have to do with Episcopal schools today? Actually, as school leaders we often encounter people “throwing down gauntlets.” Some examples:
- The faculty member who, when questioned by the division head about her continuing tardy arrivals to morning chapel services, responds, “And when are we going to do something about this impossible, over-crowded daily school schedule?”
- The father who, during the conference with the math teacher to discuss his son’s refusal to complete homework assignments, begins to rail about the ineffectiveness of the middle school soccer coach.
- The student who, during a meeting with the dean of students about not fulfilling her volunteer responsibility at the dinner for the homeless, complains bitterly about the unfairness of the new dress code.
Our mistake is thinking that we must “pick up the gauntlet.” Gauntlet-throwers have learned to distract us from our original purpose for the meeting. Once we enter the fray and veer from the subject, we lose sight of the goal we hoped to accomplish. A wise leader learns to ignore the gauntlets and stay focused on the challenge before him.
Have you found ways to avoid entering into a battle that you do not want or need to fight? How do you keep a meeting focused upon the real issue at hand? I welcome your ideas and stories.