Coaching & Leadership Development
April 24, 2019

3 Ways to Develop your Leadership Skills

3 Ways to Develop your Leadership Skills


“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realise your own potential”


Warren Bennis


This is one of my favourite leadership quotes as more often than not, when I use it when I am delivering training with Heads, I get somewhat of a quizzical look, when I ask, “What development needs will you need to have met in order to realise your own potential?”


If I ask them about the development needs of their staff, the responses are usually fast and furious. So accustomed are they to coming up with solutions and strategies for meeting other people’s development needs. But when it comes to the meeting of their own, they are often stumped. This shouldn’t be the case. Every Head teacher, whether new in post or well-established needs to understand that above and beyond courses that support the operational and strategic aspects of running a school, there are a myriad of other leadership development needs that must be met to facilitate a holistic approach to their own growth and development in the role.


Of the many types of leadership development needs that Heads, there are 3 that are absolutely fundamental…


1. Leadership development that increases Emotional Intelligence


If you are familiar with the work of Daniel Goleman, you will be familiar with his four components of Emotional Intelligence:


1.  Self-awareness – This is the ability to read your own emotions. It is a competency that allows people to know their strengths, limitations and feel confident about their self-worth. Effective Head Teachers use self-awareness to gauge their own moods accurately and they intuitively know how they are affecting others.


2. Self-management – This is the ability to control your emotions and act with honesty and integrity in reliable and adaptable ways. Effective Head teachers don’t let their occasional bad moods seize the day. They use self-management to leave their bad moods outside the school gates or to explain their source to people in a reasonable manner, so they know their origin.


3. Social Awareness – This includes the key capabilities of empathy and organisational intuition. School leaders with a high level of social awareness do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. In addition, they understand the ‘politics’ of their schools and the wider context. Thus, Head teachers understand how their words and actions make others feel, and they are sensitive enough to change them when the impact is negative.


4. Relationship Management – This includes the abilities to communicate clearly and convincingly, disarm conflicts and build strong personal bonds. Effective Head teachers use these skills to spread their enthusiasm and solve disagreements, often with humour and kindness.


These are the four components that all successful Head teachers need if they are to survive and thrive. If you have been in Headship for a while and have attended various leadership training programmes, I am sure you will have completed some sort of emotional intelligence assessment or undertaken a workshop or two.


However, I am sure you will also testify that an assessment or workshop is only the beginning. My experience has taught me (and perhaps yours has too) that developing our levels of emotional intelligence is often a very personal and private process. We develop these competencies and strengthen our ability to use them, only when we engage in leadership development that enables us to understand how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours impact upon the vision that we have for ourselves and our relationships with others.


 2. Leadership development that builds resilience


Resilience is something that every Head teacher needs, but many are poorly supported to develop the habits that will sustain them through the toughest of times. Below, are some key resilience building steps from an Integrity Coaching Associate, Mary Evans;


1. Have time each day just to “be” –the chance to experience silence and stillness, and to be in touch with nature in some way. Some people find Mindfulness practice or meditation useful.


2. Know what restores your energy battery and how to build up some spare capacity so you are not running on empty when the unforeseen demands hit!


3. Have a sense of internal purpose that gives your life meaning – this strong commitment to an external goal, which is in line with your own values, is certainly important for school leaders to remain resilient.


4. Be open to learning about yourself. This includes developing self-awareness, accepting who and how you are, having a sound belief in your own judgement and developing the ability to be objective and to step aside to reflect.


5. Work with others and ask for help, also delegate, but have sufficient independence to hang onto your sense of OK when you meet personal challenges.


In addition to these five things, seek to be both optimistic and pragmatic, moving on rather than dwelling on things, taking responsibility rather than blaming others and having a sense of humour. In summary it is important to check in regularly (probably daily) with your own energy level and how resilient you are feeling and what you can do to shift things in the right direction.


3. Leadership development that nurtures greater self-understanding


Head teachers that pursue this type of leadership development understand that change begins with themselves. They recognise that their own personal lens through which they observe and interpret the world, may have a whole range of flaws.


They recognise that our growth into adulthood, has meant that we have often had to make adaptations to fit in. They recognise that in order to fulfil their potential, they need to review what these adaptations may have been and whether they have promoted their growth or stunted it. Familiar adaptations show up in our relationships and in how we lead ourselves and others:


– An inability to say “No” can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that if they said “Yes” they were seen as being more pleasing or agreeable to others

– An over pre-occupation with detail can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that if they got things ‘right’ no harm would come to them or they were seen as being ‘good/worthy”

– Internalising of emotions can be an adaptation where growing up the individual ‘learnt’ that they were safe if they didn’t express their feelings or rock the boat.


And there are many more. The point is leadership development that seeks to raise a Head teacher’s self-awareness, can help to uncover blind-spots, that if left uncovered may seriously damage their leadership.

Such support involves;


“Not denying, distorting, exaggerating or ignoring private knowledge, internal experiences and externally based information”

(The Leadership Quarterly – 2005)

Quite simply, this form of leadership development that supports the Head teacher to have both a honest relationship with self and with others is crucial.


Every leader needs opportunities to step back and reflect on this and their own leadership, as when they do so they become more adept at learning lessons from experience, leading themselves in more supportive ways and refining the way they go about their roles.


What’s more by giving themselves a chance to stop, pause and reflect, they create invaluable opportunities where they can re-energise, re-focus on what they want to achieve, re-connect with what drives them and above all, plot how they are going about to achieve our vision. Particularly amidst the growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a school leader – this is essential to sustaining high levels of leadership effectiveness and staying in Headship for the long-haul.




A Chance to Stop and Reflect


In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.


However, without this chance to stop and consider what’s working and what isn’t – many leaders find themselves repeatedly making the same mistakes or simply leading on “autopilot”.This lack of space also means many have very few avenues for exploring and talking through the emotional aspects of the role, the challenges it poses and the impact is having upon them, mentally, emotionally and physically.


In turn, this can (without doubt) increase the risk of emotional ‘burn out’. When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating to our ability to lead others, our health and our overall well-being.  Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like but equally what must be done to prevent it!


That’s why we’re now are offering a “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.


The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.

Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.


Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…


Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.

Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.

Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.

A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.

Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.


If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…


Learn more about the Programme


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