Intentional Leadership

Category: EDLP704

Leadership and the Law

As a leader with decision-making capacity, my biggest takeaways from this class are…

I struggled to pinpoint “biggest takeaways” for this course. I am still reflecting on much of the content. As a leader with decision-making capacity, the overarching takeaway from this class is that I need to be proactively mindful of the legal ramifications of any decisions I make with regard to the organizations and people I serve. Prior to this course, my thinking about education and the law centered on social justice issues – the school to prison pipeline, disproportionate disciplinary actions, and underfunded urban school districts. Student rights within the public schools outside of rights specifically related to education did not even occur to me.

There are specific takeaways that are relevant to my role as a school administrator in a faith-based private school. First, I need to learn more about the federal and state laws that govern our educational practice. The majority of the cases we discussed in class centered on the public school context. Granted, the constitutional issues based on the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1972 are still relevant to the school I serve. However, Title IX doesn’t apply because our school receives no federal funding. My public school cohorts were able to share their school district policies on free speech, freedom of religion, and Title IX. I had no frame of reference for any of it, due in large part to my brief tenure thus far.

My second biggest takeaway is that I have to consider my role in proactively protecting the rights of people I serve. Reading Farivar’s account of the judicial and law enforcement stutter-step dance around privacy issues in Habeas Data makes it clear that I am responsible for protecting personal privacy, property, and even data in our technology-dependent society. Fortunately, our school does not collect a lot of data on our students. I will have to be mindful as we grow into a larger more complex educational organization. I am not sure what processes and systems we will need to put in place to be proactive. But my awareness is heightened to the potential risks.

My third biggest takeaway is to properly educate staff about discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Thomas’ narrative timeline of the fight for women’s equal rights in the workplace, Because of Sex, spanned more than fifty years. The last case ended approximately five years ago. We are still working to transform minds about equal rights for women despite the prevalence of women in leadership roles. Our class discussed this book as a few issues came to light among our staff in the school I serve. I realized that there are quite a few people who have been in the workforce during the past 30 years who have not engaged in progressive discussions about gender, gender identity, sexual harassment and discrimination. I understand my role as a leader is to set the expectation and help my colleagues meet that expectation.

My fourth and final takeaway is the realization that the development of jurisprudence related to our constitutional rights is complex, non-linear and seemingly illogical. Media accounts and pundit discussions of court cases sound so straightforward. Court decisions are full of perspective, point of view, bias, and conjecture. I can’t imagine trying to determine how the constitutional writers in the 1700s would apply their legal reasoning to present-day issues. Now when I listen to accounts involving any form of law enforcement issue, litigation or criminal activity, I hesitate to presume guilt, innocence or unfairness unless a blatant act of injustice has occurred. I can hear Dr. Becker ask, “What are the facts of the case?” as I try to suspend my judgment and think about how the court might reason and based on what precedent. As a leader, I am much more aware of what motives, explanations, and judgment others might assume based on the consequences of my decisions.

Leadership in the #MeToo era: Light in the Dark

Leaders cast either light or shadow dependent upon their moral or immoral actions (Johnson, 2018). The Martin Agency represents an example of leadership that casts light in this #MeToo era. Kristen Cavallo, CEO of the Martin Agency spoke to VCU students about how the Agency went from #MeToo crisis to becoming a “light in the dark” (McNeill, 2019) after unaddressed complaints of sexual harassment were publicized. Cavallo sought to change the corporate culture, starting with leadership. She appointed Karen Costello the first woman chief executive officer at the Agency. Working as team, Cavallo and Costello doubled the number of women in leadership, addressed disparities in pay and hiring practices, and implemented additional reform measures designed to give women and people of color place and power within previously off-limits arenas (Harnish, 2018). Ms. Cavallo didn’t simply replace men with women in leadership. She promoted from within using criteria that allowed for a wider variety of creative thought. Environments that tolerate sexual harassment tend to resist change in multiple ways (Harnish, 2018).

In order to lead in the #MeToo era, leaders have to be willing to upset the status quo in innovative ways that challenge oppression and exclusion. The court cases presented in Gillian Thomas’ (2016) because of sex shows the level of resistance to change in male-dominated industry in America over the past 50 years. However, Thomas’ book also gives clues as to what is needed to be light in the dark. While Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act set the stage for the legal victories examined by Thomas (2016), the federal statute is reactionary. Laws address the issue after harm has occurred. Leadership in the #MeToo era means that leaders work to prevent harm rather than just respond to and condemn it after the fact.

Ms. Cavallo’s work at the Martin Agency ostensibly represents an example of moral leadership, or casting light for those who follow her. She is redressing previous harm while simultaneously restructuring to prevent future harm. She has taken further action than what is required by federal mandate. Ms. Cavallo seems to recognize her role as a leader to leave an organization, its people, and its reputation better than it was when she arrived. It will be interesting to see the fruit from the seeds she is planting today.

My own workplace has had to address inappropriate interactions that had the potential to blossom into a #MeToo crisis within the past year. We will have to be very intentional in re-setting organizational culture, expectations, and boundaries. It is easy to assume people have the same understanding of what is acceptable speech and interaction. It is easy to whisper in hushed voices about inappropriate behaviors observed in the workplace. Leadership in the #MeToo era cannot afford to make such assumptions or turn a deaf ear.

I recognize the need to be intentional raising my own children. Three years ago, I signed up my youngest son, who is now 17, to be a participant in Empower RVA Teens, a YWCA peer facilitation program that seeks to prevent dating violence and sexual assault by educating and empowering teens ( He was reluctant at first, but he realized how important the awareness was for him personally after experiencing a potentially abusive relationship. As a result of his involvement in that program, he attended a Respect My Red training with his school this past Monday. According to the Respect My Red website, the goal of the training is to teach about healthy relationships in order to reduce incidences of sexual harassment and assault ( These trainings are geared toward student leaders as well as school administrators to be effective peer educators and allies.

The educational approach that reaches various social demographics to prevent sexual harassment is the kind of approach that creates every day leaders with the power to illuminate places that were darkened by immoral leaders. Every day leaders need to be empowered because every day actions lead to #MeToo movements.



Harnish, A. (2018). The Morning After [online article]. Retrieved from

Johnson, C.E. (2015). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

McNeill, B. (2019). How The Martin Agency went from #MeToo crisis to becoming a ‘light in the dark’. [article].

Thombs, G. (2016). Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work. New York, NY: St Martin’s Press.


Roseflower Response

[NOTE: This blog post is a response the a hypothetical scenario linked here.]

Pertinent factors in the Roseflower Independent School District align with the Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 US ___ (2014) and the Lee v. Weisman 505 US 577 (1977) cases. In Lee v. Weisman, Weisman sued to halt the practice of the principal inviting clergy to offer prayers of invocation and benediction at local middle school graduation ceremonies. Similarities to the Roseflower case include a representative of a school system involved in implementing overtly religious activity at a school-sponsored event and prayer being held at a school-sponsored event as part of a generally accepted practice, but not an explicit policy. I have considered the decision of the Supreme Court and the concurring and dissenting opinions in this response to Rosewood.

In Town v Galloway, Galloway sued to end the practice of prayer at local legislative sessions predominantly led by Christian clergy from among the community to the apparent exclusion of other faiths. The Roseflower case is similar in that prayer was led by a predominantly by a Christian, prayer started a meeting of the school district’s governing body in which meeting participants were fulfilling either their roles as employees or as part of their civic duty.

As Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, I would consult the legal counsel for the school district, particularly since Dr. Cohen is willing to file suit if necessary. I would want to know if the school district or the state has any restriction on prayer in public schools and if there had been previous issues regarding prayer in school. The personnel aspects of this situation center on the power and authority commiserate with Dr. Jordan’s position as Superintendent. The fact that her subordinates are in attendance at the administrative meetings in which these prayer moments take place can be viewed as coercive. Ostensibly, those under her authority are compelled to stand in a circle, holding hands while she leads in prayer, invoking God. There is no indication that she allows for those who are not in agreement to leave nor does she hold the prayer prior to the formal start of the meetings thereby making the prayer participation voluntary. In order to avoid these prayer moments, her subordinates would have to intentionally arrive late or overtly dissent. Dissent during the meeting could be taken as disrespect not only for her authority, but for the administrative team as well.

Once I have sought legal counsel, I would speak with Dr. Jordan about Dr. Cohen’s complaint about the prayer at the administrative meetings and at the school board meetings, making her aware of the potential for legal action. I would make her aware of the likely violation of the Establishment Clause. I also would encourage Dr. Jordan to consult with the District lawyer as well. I seek to facilitate a conversation between Dr. Jordan and Dr. Cohen to give him an opportunity to personally express his views hoping to avoid a contentious relationship. In order to facilitate a mutual agreement, I would suggest that Dr. Jordan consider making the prayer optional just prior to the start time of the administrative meeting for those who want to participate.  Although it is unclear whether Dr. Jordan also started the school board meeting prayer, I would suggest the meetings begin with a centering moment in which attendees can pray, meditate or pray silently if they so choose.

Free speech and Leadership

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrows, and – as it did here – inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation, we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

Chief Justice Roberts in Snyder v. Phelps

Two aspects of the above quote strike a chord with me as a leader. The first sentence “Speech is powerful” reminds me that what I say – whether through oration, writing, text, tweet, video – will have an impact on the hearer. We learned in the Leadership Presence class to decide our intention before we speak and focus on that intention as we prepare so that our words will have the force of its intended impact. In the close context of the Educational Leadership program, it is easy to automatically consider that our intentions are moral and honorable when we speak.

However, that is not the case with all speech. As a leader, I have to remember that I cannot react to the pain caused by hurtful speech by “punishing the speaker”. This second aspect of the quote is formidable, particularly in this moment in the collective history of society. Dramatic and hyperbolic rhetoric designed to provoke an emotional response abounds in media today. There is an emotional maturity and restraint in putting aside one’s feelings of moral outrage to uphold the principles of the greater good of society. I believe that is what Chief Justice Roberts is referring to in this quote.

I recently read that Abraham Lincoln had a “dark side” fostered by traumatic childhood experiences that created in him a sense of inferiority and lack of self-worth (McIntosh & Rima, 1997). However, Lincoln managed to control the negative impact of his dark side even in the face of harsh criticisms of his leadership. He refused to return insult for injury or even engage in conflict in order to focus on the bigger picture for the good of the people.

It’s easy to tune out the opinions of those with whom I disagree and judge them right or wrong. It’s even easier to attack the character of those who say what I consider to be hateful, hurtful, and immoral words. However, as a leader, I have to be mindful that there are followers to whom I am accountable and for whom I provide a standard by my actions. I have to be willing to show how to engage in public discourse that makes room for opposing views, even those that are hurtful.



McIntosh, G. L. & Rima, Sr., S.D. (1997). Overcoming the dark side of leadership: The paradox of personal dysfunction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

© 2021 Qasarah Spencer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Privacy Statement