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 nurture 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.
Do you have a desire to lead with greater authenticity?
We believe that authentic school leadership is crucial for both supporting great leadership and developing healthy schools.
Yet being an authentic school leader can be exceedingly challenging, particularly in the context of an education system which has not, as yet, found a consistent way to enable school leaders to embrace their vulnerability and true sense of personhood.
That’s why in October 2020, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for our very special “Education for the Soul” conference.
This conference will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how school leaders can look after their own well-being, get the most out of those they lead and deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.
As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2020 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others