As a Head you are human and just like us all, there will be times when you will make mistakes. Mistakes are not to be feared. It is through our mistakes that we learn and grow.
However, in the life of a Head teacher, I would argue there is one mistake, that you cannot afford to make. And that is the mistake of believing because you are now at the ‘top’ of the ladder you are the finished article.
Your years of honing your craft in the classroom and leading as a Deputy have fully prepared you for the role that you now occupy and that there is nothing more for you to learn. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
When you step into the Headteacher role, it is important to recognise that you are now at another stage in your development as a leader. Very often, the psychological adjustments that need to be made in order for you to fully accept and understand this can be like learning to walk again.
Just as when you were a child learning to walk, you were supported by loved ones to move from a place of unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence (Maslow’s Four Stages of Learning – below), as a school leader you have to be supported to move to this confident place of being.
The impact of leading without psychological support
Without psychological support, the experience for a Head growing into their role can be both lonely and limiting. Progress can be slow and in extreme cases, stunted; neither the leader nor those they lead seem able to reach the level of maturity necessary for sustained personal effectiveness.
No matter how well concealed it might be, every Head’s journey begins at the point of unconscious incompetence; it is only with time, patience, understanding and an environment that facilitates personal growth, that he or she can reach the point of unconscious competence. And … this is why it can prove fatal for any Head to believe that they are the finished article. No one is! Leadership and life are intertwined and the demands of both never diminish.
To grow as a leader to expand your capacity for dealing with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ you must accept that you are fallible. In accepting this, you open the door for new relationships to support your leadership development.
The type of relationships that you invite are the ones where your fallibility is not hidden, but instead it is a welcome part of your conversations and meetings. These relationships help you to grow psychologically and emotionally. In these relationships you learn to become more of yourself. Your self-awareness grows as does your understanding of the true nature of school leadership and what is being asked of you.
At this point you may be thinking, “This is all well and good, but how on earth, can I find this type of relationship, with the current high stakes accountability culture as it currently stands? Always having to watch my back. Always knowing that if I let my mask slip, just for a second, it may be held against me.” I can’t argue against that. We all know the reality of life as a school leader today. However, we can consider …
What’s within your sphere of Influence to change?
I can and I will argue for you to take a step back and to consider what can you do to tip the balance? How can you nurture and develop other types of relationships to act as a counterbalance to some of the more dominant ‘aggressive’ types that you may have become used to and simply normalised.
Ask yourself, what difference would it make to my life as a Headteacher, if I had a professional relationship where the hallmarks were:
I’m guessing, the difference would be enormous! Consider this; every day you invest an enormous amount of emotional energy, building and developing relationships with others. You give continuously. Because you believe in others and you believe in what you do.
This isn’t easy to maintain. After a long week and the inevitable challenges of your role, it can often feel as though your energy, hope and emotional reserves are in short supply – at this points you need relationships are the ones that fortify you, ones that help to ensure that your mistakes become the ground out of which new learning, confidence and growth can arise.
It is understandably difficult to have these relationships with members of your team as there is always the risk of crossing professional boundaries. Friends and family might offer a listening ear, but again it isn’t easy. Unless they have walked in your shoes, it can feel like no-one really fully understands what you are going through.
However, I know from my own experience as a Headteacher and now as an Executive coach how vital it is to have someone impartial who you can turn to, who can offer you a listening ear, support, encouragement to help keep you going towards your vision.
That’s why I offer free Coaching calls to give senior leaders who don’t feel they such relationships to support them in their role, an opportunity to:
– Talk through and get support with the challenges they’re currently facing
– Reflect on events and the impact they’re having
– Gain clarity about their current situation and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!