Growing the Leader Within – Steve Russell

This Blog comes from Integrity Coaching Associate & Education for the Soul Conference Workshop Facilitator, Steve Russell.

So there I am, high-viz jacket on, walkie talkie in hand, walking the corridors on my first day as an interim senior leader of a bustling secondary school.
As I approach a group of students, several of whose uniforms need tidying up, an anxiety rises within me as I prepare to ask them to tuck shirts in and straighten ties. “Will they take the blindest bit of notice of me?’ is that nagging thought, rumbling underneath as I check my body posture and clear my throat.
Fast forward a couple of hours later and I’m sat across the table from a behaviour mentor about whose performance there are some concerns. I’ve been tasked with establishing whether these concerns are well-founded and, if so, put together an action plan in order to ‘move things on’. Within five minutes, I’ve heard how her dad is seriously ill and that this is why she isn’t effective as she usually is.
These two examples immediately spring to my mind when I think of the challenge of leadership. You will have your own. Perhaps it’s dealing with a parent whose behaviour you find challenging; or working with Governors on a specific aspect of school development. The list is endless –and quite often contains the issues that keep you awake at night.
Essentially, the challenge is essentially around how do we carry ourselves with integrity when fulfilling the role of being in charge?  Going back to my two examples – I have previous experiences of being in charge to draw upon, I have techniques I’ve picked up.
And alongside this, there is a rich store of material where I’ve observed others who have led effectively – other Headteachers and senior leaders, mentors, teachers who just seem to ‘have it’ (whatever ‘it’ is).
And to draw upon this in ways that can be translated into highly practical ways to use ‘in the moment’, I often also hold in my mind the idea of effective leadership being about blending five elements…
– Guiding and Directing Others (Control)
– Looking After People (Care)
– Relating to Others
– Doing my own thing in my own way
– Taking good account of what’s going on (within myself and within those I’m leading/being in charge of) – and channeling my energy accordingly.
These elements are taken from functional fluency a model that has proven to, amongst other things, be a very potent of illuminating what behaviours are most helpful d in effectively leading others.
So, going back to the two previous examples. With the students, I know that, from a place of under-confidence and anxiety, I can seek to achieve ‘control’ over them by immediately going in for a more punitive approach (‘Get your uniforms sorted otherwise it will be a detention”), or indeed by turning a blind eye to it.
The five elements listed above provide me with a framework and useful prompt that I am more likely to effectively be in charge if I adopt a more structuring approach (“Come one folks – blazers and ties sorted please. Thank you’) and steer clear of using dominating behaviours, which will only lead to either resistance (“Make me!”) or compliance rooted in fear (which goes against my values). And indeed, a bit of appropriate humour can go a long way to help foster co-operation.
Similarly, when it comes to the behaviour mentor, I navigate my way across the elements. Hearing about her mum, I cannot help feel some sympathy for her situation. And yet I have to balance care with being clear about the school’s expectations for the role for which she is paid.
It’s a tricky balance. How do I do this and not appear callous? And on the flipside, I know that the last thing I want to do is show care through a marshmallowing-like approach of ‘There, there, don’t worry about it.
I’m sure we can work something out”. So, I become aware of the challenge inherent in this situation that is essentially about balancing structure with nurture.
And balance is the magical ingredient that is what increases our effectiveness as leaders. Balance borne out of good levels of awareness of self and of others and an ever-growing confidence that we can flow between and through the different elements in order to draw out the best not only in those we lead, but also in our selves.


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