Coaching & Leadership Development
September 11, 2018

“Fight or Flight” – How to End the Leadership Struggle

“Fight or Flight” – How to End the Leadership Struggle


Back in May 2018, a national newspaper headline read, Three in 10 new School leaders quit in the first five years. For those of us who work in schools this is old news. We know that draconian changes within the education sector have left many teachers and school leaders struggling …


“With a sense of despair, self-doubt and frustration that occurs when they experience themselves in ways which are incommensurate with their vision…. They experience a disjuncture between original ideas and current realities”

Parker J Palmer


We know this means many teachers and school leaders simply struggle to survive – mentally, physically and emotionally. Consequently, many feel they have only two options to either fight or flight. Neither options are good for the system or the individual.


For the system, when schools are led by individuals who are in either fight or flight mode it often means:


– The hallmarks of the Ego, control, competition, fear and coercion dominate

– Emotionally Intelligent styles of leadership are derided, if they do not result in fast turn arounds and accelerated results

– Good people ‘disappear’ – either as a result of stress and burnout or because they have been forced out by the powers that be


For School leaders who find themselves operating from the fight or flight mode it often means:


– Being in a constant state of high alert, with stress hormones continually flooding your body and impacting adversely on how you lead both yourself and others

– Playing it safe, minimising taking risks or listening to your own voice, for fear of what might happen if you slip up or make a mistake

– An undermining of your own self-worth, confidence and belief in who you are as a leader.


Is there a solution?


If this is the question that you have been asking yourself, I’d like to believe that there is. To quote Aldous Huxley;


“You can’t change what’s going on around you, until you start to change what’s going on inside you”.


To rise above the harmful effects of a system that uses competition, fear and coercion as a means for controlling others, you have to learn to be responsive as opposed to reactive. You have to learn how to take control of your own internal processes, your thoughts and emotions, so that you are not driven to react or behave in ways that can cause detriment to both yourself and others.


Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s easier said than done”. If you are, You’re right. It is. But with a little determined practice, it gets easier and with time you find that you become a more conscious, aware leader. You are no-longer driven to react by the force of some-one else’s agenda, but instead you are compassionately directed by your own internal moral compass.


So …. where can you begin?


If you are determined to show up as your True Self and to lead from a place of true inner strength, then first of all you have to begin by making a commitment to yourself. That commitment needs to involve a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone. It requires a willingness to behave in ways that may seem contrary to what some say is needed for you to be an effective school leader.


You need to make a commitment to:


– Slow down

– To press pause

– To regularly retreat from school life

– To listen to yourself

– To take counsel from others who accept you as you are


Why? Because when you do so, you create a space that mentally, emotionally and physically allows you to be restored and to put a halt to the harmful effects of living life in either fight or flight mode.


Mentally: We now know thanks to the work of numerous neuro-scientists across the world, that when you take a person out of stressful situations, their brains can re-wire. With support, they can create new neural pathways, that ultimately can help them to both be and do better when re-entering stressful situations.


Emotionally: Thanks again to the work of neuro-scientists, we also know that there is a close connection between what happens inside our heads and our corresponding emotions. If we can learn to think differently, more positively and constructively under stress, we can put a halt to negative emotions and their corresponding stress hormones.


Physically: When we pause we stop the wear and tear on our bodies. We allow our immune system to be fully operative and to take care of us, so that we can properly take care of others.


A New Reality for School Leaders


We know from the many years that we have spent supporting Heads and school leaders, that you have the power to change your daily experience of school leadership and take back control of your leadership story, so that these realities don’t have to be the case for you. We want to support you to do just this.


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


Learn More

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