Recently, I’ve been considering one question that I believe is very important to our education system today…
What does it mean to be an authentic school leader?
My reflections on this question brought me to the work of author and authenticity expert, Brené Brown who defines it as “the choice to show up and be real, to be honest and let our true selves be seen”.
Yet as many School Leaders often find and Brown points out, being authentic isn’t easy. It involves “choosing being real over being liked” and putting your True Self out to the world which can be both uncomfortable and daunting.
However, whilst there is a risk, there’s also a lot to gain. Brown explains that this authenticity is also crucial for building trust, believing in oneself, facilitating better communication and cultivating genuine human connection. Features which, I believe are vital in our schools as we seek to nuture within our children a healthy sense of what it means to be human.
In my time working with School Leaders, I’ve also witnessed first-hand the enormous difference greater authenticity can make to School Leaders themselves; in terms of the decisions they make, the leader they have been able to become and the school cultures they’ve been able to create.
But what does an Authentic School Leader look like, what qualities would you expect to see?
Well, I believe there are four qualities that you will often find in an Authentic School Leader…
1. They are deeply connected to their passion and purpose
Authentic School Leaders know themselves, what they stand for, what they want to achieve, and why they have chosen to take on the mantle of School Leadership. They are deeply connected to their purpose and this drives them every day.
As a result, they are better able to articulate their school’s vision and staff are more able to see beyond their own classrooms and connect with the bigger picture. These leaders are able to stay motivated, even when times are tough, because they are sustained by their driving purpose and their big WHY.
2. They lead with Integrity
Authentic School leaders know what their values and purpose are and every action and decision is made with these in mind. For authentic School Leaders, decision-making becomes easier as the leader knows what can’t be done, what has to be done and how to act in alignment with what they stand for.
Moreover, they also have the courage to do what they believe is necessary or right, even when it is uncomfortable and/or difficult to do so.
These School Leaders inspire others with their values and helps build trust as staff are able to see and know what their leader is all about.
3. They know their Strengths and Weaknesses
An authentic School Leader is also able to recognise both their strengths and the skills and qualities they need to develop. These leaders are more able to make full use of their talents for the benefit of their school but they are also not afraid to be honest with themselves about the aspects of their leadership which could be improved.
These leaders are able to accept themselves as they are and recognise that we are all in a process of growth and therefore, they know their current limitations are neither fixed nor something to be ashamed of.
As these leaders take the time to reflect on and recognise qualities in themselves, in turn, these leaders also become better at spotting talent and seeing the strengths of their staff that could benefit their school.
4. They have the courage to be vulnerable and open
An authentic leader knows that vulnerability and open communication are crucial for authentic and meaningful human connection. Authentic School Leaders have the courage to express who they truly are, share their beliefs, goals, concerns and fears openly and honestly – and encourage others to do the same.
As such, they are not afraid to have the deep, difficult conversations that come from the heart, even in the face of risk and hurt. As a result, they are more likely to speak out and ask for help when they are struggling or need support.
These leaders model their humanity and their openness and staff are empowered to do the same. In their schools, staff feel listened to, cared for and above all come to understand what it takes to show up daily as their best selves.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned since leaving Headship is that no School Leader should have to live their life as a lesser version of themselves, for fear of what others might think or say, if they really saw you.
Yes, the current education landscape, can at times feel harsh, brutal and a very unsafe place to show up as our True selves, but it is necessary. Our schools, our young people need to be led by leaders who understand, as in the words of American author Brene Brown, ‘You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.’
I know that this is hard. One of the hardest things for me as a Head teacher was finding the courage to ask for the help that I needed. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone with whom I could “drop the leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and feelings I was having in my role.
And it is the same today. If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness amidst the growing complexity of the role, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet School Leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for School Leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!