Leadership, A Little Less Distilled

Following this tweet https://twitter.com/secretHT1/status/1352892060798513154 I’ve fleshed out some of my thoughts on the most important aspects of leadership.

1) Put Your Ego to One Side

Yes, we’re in charge of something. Yes, we’ve been given a place of responsibility, but don’t let it get to ours head. There’s still a lot we don’t know about a lot of things no matter how long we’ve done the role. I’m not the best teacher at my school, I am not the most organised, I am not the best at admin. The minute I think I am, I’m in trouble. I do have strengths that others don’t but I’ve certainly got weaknesses they don’t as well. 

Giving it the big ‘I am’ and strutting around acting like I know best doesn’t really help anyone. Ever. 

2) Listen

How are we going to judge the mood and know where people are at if we don’t listen? Get out and about, leave the office, talk to people, talk to everyone. Ask their opinion and ask them to give it honestly. If we are going to act in the best interests of everyone that is involved, we need their point of view. It doesn’t mean we have to do everything we are told, but if people know we’ve listened, and they’ve had the opportunity to give their input then it goes a long way to getting buy in. 

3) Explain and Discuss

Following straight on from this, everything is in the explanation. Talk about the decision-making process and be transparent in what you’ve done. We need to show that we’ve listened in the decision we’ve made. The point of view someone has offered may not be in line with the final decision but proving you have taken it into consideration makes such a big difference. It makes people feel valued, worthwhile and like what they say has been part of our decision-making process. 

Not everything needs to be a fait accompli. We can just as easily offer a suggested solution, take the feedback and then go away and reassess. The more agency and input we give people the better. This is where we lead and not manage. There is power in a collective and there can often be ignorance in an individual. 

4) Be Open to Challenge

So, someone disagrees? Good for them. Sometimes we make bad decisions and need telling so. Sometimes it is far better that we are told than being left to plough ahead with something that is wrong. If we give feedback to a teacher that might be difficult, we can be at pains to stress that the feedback is professional and not personal. It is absolutely no different in reverse. Challenge, when welcomed, taken on board, and considered becomes a much less hostile and threatening thing. It goes back to previous points. The challenge might not change anything, but if people know it will be considered and genuinely be part of the thought process that it becomes remarkably constructive. 

5) Admit When You Are Wrong

If we are open to challenge, we’ve also got to be open to change. Getting it wrong isn’t a mark of weakness, and changing our mind certainly isn’t. It doesn’t make you a pushover it means you’ve reflected and acted, something we encourage all people to do from pupils to parents. How often have we told the children that making mistakes is OK and that is how we learn and improve? Just because we are in a leadership position doesn’t make this less valid. A lot of what we tell children is good advice for ourselves too – sometimes we just to listen to our own advice. 

6) Don’t Ask What You Wouldn’t Do

We’ve all been teachers. We’ve all been incredibly frustrated when we’ve been asked to do something that seems high effort, low impact. I am always thinking, would I have been able to do this when I was teaching as well? If this answer is no, then I have to find a way to change it and make it more manageable. I could ask for all sorts from the teachers at my school and almost everything would add more workload. We have to pick and choose what we ask people to do and be confident that if they turned around and said show me how to do this and teach, we’d be able to make it work. 

7) Be Human

Leadership is all about relationships. Being a leader doesn’t mean being unapproachable or beyond a conversation about nothing in particular beyond what was on telly last night. It doesn’t mean never going into the staff room. It doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with people on your staff team. Those human connections where we take a genuine and mutual interest in the lives of the people we work with are so invaluable. It builds the team, and it helps everyone feel valued. 

8) Trust People to Do Their Best

Trusting people to do their best does not lead to anarchy. It leads to people work with a freedom and sense of worth. By giving people our trust, we earn theirs in return. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. Endless check-ups and requests for data, planning and information give the distinct impression that we don’t feel people will do their job properly unless they are monitored. I know from when I was teaching, the more extraneous paperwork I had to produce that never really got looked at, the worse teacher I became as more of my time was wasted put things on paper than actually working on what was best for my class and the children in it. Being released from being monitored around the clock was a breath of fresh air. Why not give people that every day?

9) Know You’re Not Always the Expert

Already referenced but knowing your strengths and weaknesses is key. A school is full of fabulous resources in every member of staff. Why wouldn’t we use this to make things better for everyone? I am very happy not being the best teacher in my school or not being the person with the most knowledge. Relying on the strengths of others builds trust, builds a team and can even ease my own workload. I don’t need to control everything as a leader. I need to have oversight of it all, but I don’t need to run it all. If I wouldn’t do it the best it could be, why wouldn’t I lean into others for help and advice?

10) Work With, Not Demand Of

A leader is as much as part of the team as anyone. We might be ones who make the ultimate decisions but we are part of that team. Doing everything I’ve mentioned above and then still seeing ourselves as the one above everyone else is completely counterintuitive. We are not there to frag everyone in one direction, but to help push everyone forward. Sometimes the best leaders don’t lead from the front, they lead from the back. Support, holding people up and letting them take the lead and the credit for a job well done. Working with our teams is better for everyone, every day. 

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

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