Perhaps one of the most unenviable aspects of becoming a school leader is the fact that from day one, almost everything you either say or do comes under intense public scrutiny.
The challenge of being under constant scrutiny for much of your working day is tough! It means that it becomes near impossible for you to find a quiet space where you can still your thoughts and make sense of whatever the day has thrown at you.
In the hurly-burly of school life, when faced with challenging circumstances (which often arise on a daily or some-times even minute by minute basis!) you very quickly become adept at responding to events with perceived expertise and aplomb. Responding to stress, responding to crisis, small and large that are not a part of the planned daily routine, soon become an accepted part of your life as a school leader.
However, left unchecked, and without time to reflect on causes, their impact and consequences of actions taken, your automatic behaviours can result in you not being fully cognisant of what your new role is really asking of you and the changes that are required to ensure you succeed.
That’s why I strongly believe that our new school leaders need conversations that allow them to breathe and make sense of their new emerging identity.
Such conversations out of the leadership spotlight are not just as a helpful additions, but rather they are vital as their inclusion supports long-term professional sustainability and success.
This is because in private, away from the glare of others, these conversations help new leaders to do four important things…..
1) Understand the new
In new situations, when strong relationships are yet to be formed and the culture of a place fully understood, many new leaders cling to behaviours that may have served them well in a previous contexts, but may not be so well-suited to their current one.
Leadership feels hard and burdensome, not because as some mistakenly think, they are not up to the job, but simply because the new context requires that they come to know themselves differently and therefore engage in new types of conversation. Conversations where individuals can explore how to let go of the familiar and move into the unknown without fear or hesitation.
2) Create a clear vision
New leaders benefit from having regular conversations that help them to hone their personal vision. It is likely that new school leaders will have observed a range of both effective and ineffective leadership practices. In order for the newly appointed leader to lead with authenticity and confidence, s/he must be able to distil what they have learnt and use it to create their own unique image of what successful leadership means for them.
3) Stay true to their values
New leaders need to be supported to clarify their personal values and make connections between them and their behaviours as a leader. By having spaces and conversations where they are able to regularly reflect on their values and how they are brought to life in their school, individuals are supported to stay anchored to these values when faced with the challenges and demands of their new role.
4) Strengthen their resilience
All leaders need a space where they can ‘top up’ their reservoirs of hope, resilience and optimism. Often when new in post, expectations are high- those of self and of others! Without anyone to talk to openly and honestly about these pressures, individuals can experience increased levels of self-doubt, emotional overload and subsequently become less resilient to the demands of the post.
Making it safe to explore leadership vulnerabilities
If our leaders are to build effective schools in which both children and staff fulfil their potential, then there have to be systems in place that facilitate school leaders being able to have conversations that allow them to explore the inherent vulnerabilities that accompany the role.
For many new school leaders, there is no-one with whom they can “drop their leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and concerns they are experiencing in the role.
Without such support the reality of school leadership can sometimes prove too intense for those new to the role. Far too often this has led to many new school leaders sacrificing their well-being and subsequently feeling unable to continue in their role. This is not how things should be.
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 endemically under-supported and, as a result, many leaders 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 for school leaders to ensure they are provided with an opportunity to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing in their role
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help them overcome the issues they’re experiencing
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they have had
– Gain clarity in their thoughts and their current situation