A while back, I wrote a piece on the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Headteachers” . The piece proved to be very popular and appeared to resonate with many who read it. Taking a lead from the words of Stephen Covey – “If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself’” the paper sought to help school leaders reflect on the behaviours that could lead to greater effectiveness in their roles.
In this short resource, I explained amongst other things, why Heads need to be guided by their values, be honest with themselves, move out of their comfort zones and focus on the positive, if they are to keep their hope alive and succeed in their roles.
However, the paper didn’t explore in detail detrimental habits; habits which if left unchecked, can adversely impact school outcomes and individuals’ capacity for staying in the profession for the long-haul.
So, having pondered this, this blog considers four key habits that I believe school leaders need to be aware of, so that they do not sabotage their efforts to lead and be the very best that they can be…
1. Putting Yourself (and your needs) Last
One of the most harmful leadership habits is failing to take proper care of yourself and your physical, emotional and psychological needs. In a role where an enormous amount of emotional energy is expended – meeting the needs of others, it is vital that time is given to replenish your emotional and mental resources. As when these needs are met, a firm inner foundation is built, which enables leaders to feel secure and grounded when dealing with the daily challenges of the role.
Yet, too many School Leaders neglect even the most basic acts of self-care; such as, ensuring they have lunch, getting enough sleep and having a proper break from work in the evenings and at weekends. When a leader neglects these needs, then it almost inevitably ends up affecting the way they lead themselves and others. Many eventually fall victim to the “Sacrifice Syndrome” This common syndrome occurs when individuals give an inordinate amount of themselves to others, that eventually there is nothing left for themselves.
It begins with leaders going above and beyond to ensure positive outcomes for their school, but often ends up with leaders working themselves into the ground to the detriment of their leadership. When this happens, fault lines appear in systems, processes and operations that had once firmly supported good teaching and learning.
That’s why I believe it is a leader’s first (not last) responsibility to care of their own needs. Doing so is not selfish but a necessity, as Parker J Palmer explains…
“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
2. Feeling you have to provide all the answers
As a School Leader, very often it can feel that whatever the problem, it is yours to fix! Even if the problem requires someone who has skills more akin to that of a politician, child psychologist or social worker – You are at the top of the school and therefore it falls to you to fix it!
But … You are human! We all are and it’s important to remember that nobody is an expert on everything and that it is OK not to have all the answers.
Fortunately, as a school leader, you’re likely to have a team around you with a diversity of skills and experience that you can draw on.
After all, just as your job as a school leader is not to teach all the classes yourself – equally, your job is not to solve every problem yourself. Instead great leadership involves making best use of personal experience and expertise, as well as that of others.
Finally, it’s also worth bearing in mind that not only is it OK not to have all the answers but it’s also OK for you not to be right all the time. Whether you’ve been a school leader for the last two months or for the last thirty years, you are always learning. Mistakes are not only inevitable, but are in fact, a crucial part of the growing process and journeying towards becoming one’s best self.
3. Not Making Time for Reflection
As a school leader, the one thing you probably never seem to have enough of is time. During the rush of busy days and with plenty of “fires” to put out, it may feel like there’s simply never an opportunity to stop, pause and reflect.
However, if anything, these are the times when reflection is most needed. As when we make it a habit to rush and plough on through life, we can miss important lessons which either could help us put out the flames or help prevent similar fires from starting in the future.
By taking the time to stop, pause and reflect, we give ourselves a chance to work through situations and accompanying emotions. These moments of reflection can lead to greater composure, wisdom and insight. They also help us to stay connected with our vision, values and purpose.
By setting aside regular time to consider one’s leadership, we can keep our reasons for leading in clear sight and ensure that our values are “lived not laminated”.
4. Not seeking Support when you need it most
When I first became a Head, I looked at all the other Heads around me and firmly believed that no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost you had to soldier on no matter what.
I wasn’t aware that there was another option and that was, to ask for help. Well, that’s not quite right. My belief was rightly or wrongly, that if I asked for help, it would either be seen as a sign of weakness or it would be used against me.
The same I know to be true for many school leaders today. Many do not ask for help because they harbour a number of fears;
– Fear of being judged
– Fear of what others might say or think
– Fear of being seen as weak or as a failure.
– Fear of not knowing the answers to problems that have arisen.
– Fear that the help that is asked for might not match one’s needs.
However, by not seeking help – leaders not only lose sight of their own humanity but also how it is modelled to others. Being human involves feeling and learning to live with fear and self-doubt, being vulnerable to change and uncertainty.
We are social beings who need to support one – another if we are to lead fulfilling lives and achieve our goals. Something school leaders need to model not only to their staff, but also for the children in their schools.
Need support to meet the demands of your role?
I know it can feel hard to reach out for support.
Yet we know with the increased complexity of the school leadership role and the huge emotional cost, without support, many school leaders falter and never fulfil the dream they have for themselves and their schools. That’s why it’s vital that after a stressful period or a setback, that you have someone you can turn to, who can offer you an impartial listening ear, support and encouragement.
If this applies to you and you feel you’d benefit from a confidential, safe, non–judgemental space to explore your thoughts, I’m now offering completely free 30-minute Coaching calls to provide you with an opportunity to…
– Talk through the challenges you 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 on you
– 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!