Holiday Party Question: “Can I Kick Back in the Presence of Staff?”

Dear Rick & Rebecca: I’m torn about maintaining a leadership presence during the happy hour and holiday party season. This is my first year as an instructional coach and many of my close personal friends are teachers at my school. I don’t want to come across as “too good for them.” At the same time, it doesn’t seem appropriate to go to holiday parties and imbibe like many of the teachers. In fact, my principal recommended that I not attend at all because we should separate ourselves as leaders. I don’t want to throw my principal under the bus and tell people that she thinks I should skip parties. Do you think it is appropriate for me to let my hair down with my friends? How do I maintain professionalism but still keep my friendships?–Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dear Between a Rock and a Hard Place,

“Leadership means that a group, large or small, is willing to entrust authority to a person who has shown judgment, wisdom, personal appeal, and proven competence.”-Walt Disney

Navigating the waters of leadership appropriateness requires discernment and boundary setting actions.  Walt Disney’s quote helps set the tone for good decision-making. You may want to consider the following questions:

  1. Will attending a happy hour with the group of people that you lead show good judgment?
  2. Can you attend the happy hour and still display wisdom and personal appeal?
  3. Will you be able to maintain your proven competence as their leader by attending a holiday party where everyone will be letting loose? (Remember, you have to make sure you don’t “let loose,” yourself. We’ve seen situations like this where once you cross that line, it is talked about by your colleagues forever!

If you can honestly answer yes to all three of these questions, then there may be a third option that you could consider. Is it possible to show up to holiday parties just to “show your face” for 30 minutes, interact with everyone, and then make a graceful, early exit? This would require you having a courageous conversation with your principal. Share your desire to maintain relationships, but assure her of your well-thought-out plan to maintain professionalism, adhere to some boundaries, and make early exits.

Being in a leadership role does require a different set of standards and accountability. Hanging out with your close personal friends outside of work is one thing, but partying with the people in the organization that you lead is another. Your professional life must be professional; you are the only one who will make the decision to keep it in tact. Don’t let your guard down.

We hope this leads you to a solid decision.

Happy Holidays,


Rick Jetter (@RickJetter; and Rebecca Coda (@RebeccaCoda; offer weekly advice on navigating the waters of school leadership. With more than 34 years of combined teaching and school leadership experience, Rick & Rebecca’s new book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, will be released by Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. in December.