The weight of School Leadership is not an easy load to bear. It takes a pair of broad shoulders to consistently carry the weight of expectation that is placed upon Heads and their roles.
All too often, the weight of responsibility is made that much heavier by the feelings of guilt that many Heads carry around with them. Guilt that is kept hidden from others but is not secret to the bearer.
For many a School Leader guilt is insidious and more often than not undermines your efforts to do the right thing. You know as a Head, doing the right thing is frequently the most difficult thing to do; particularly when decisions made are contrary to what ‘others’ believe is required.
Guilt knows this and rather than support your decisions, guilt works in tandem with your inner critic to tell you that you have got it wrong. That it is you that is out of step and that you are to blame for the emotional responses and behaviours of others.
In addition, because guilt has an intimate relationship with the psyche of School Leaders, it has played a key role in thwarting many School Leaders’ attempts to take care of themselves. If you are a School Leader, guilt tells you that you are in some way mistaken if you consider putting your needs ahead of the children or staff in your school.
It tells you, even when you are at breaking point, that you can’t take your foot off the peddle. Guilt just pushes you harder and harder and has little regard for the emotional cost of doing so.
If this resonates, it is essential that guilt stops running the show and you put your-self back in the driving seat. Ask yourself what role has guilt played in preventing you from taking care of yourself?
Has guilt stopped you from…
1. Saying ‘No” to others?
2. Investing more time with family and friends?
3. Spending time on yourself?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then as a Head it is essential that you should stop feeling guilty about them.
Why? Because …
1. When you say “No” to others, you become more discerning of how you use your time and energy. You realise that just because you are the School Leader, you cannot and you must not do everything! You realise that when you say, “No” you also release capacity for you to invest your time and energy in those tasks, conversations and relationships that truly deserve your attention
2. When you spend more time with family and friends, you refill your wells. You develop a greater sense of harmony between your personal and professional lives. Work does not become all-consuming. Life and leadership take on a different hue and you develop a greater sense of well-being.
3. When you spend time on yourself, you develop a greater understanding of who you are. You learn how to bring a greater degree of alignment between your internal and external worlds. As a result, you grow in authenticity as a leader. Leadership becomes less burdensome as you discover ways in which to make the weight of School Leadership that much easier to bear.
To end with the words of Parker J Palmer, who I have often quoted in my blogs,
“Self-care is never a selfish act. It is simply good stewardship of the only gift that I have, the gift that I was put on earth to offer others. Any time we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch”
So the next time, guilt pipes up and tries to stop you from taking time out for yourself, just remember, it is not selfish to do so, it is ‘simply good stewardship of the only gift that you have.’
It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the role of being a Head, to the point that your private life simply drops off the schedule as you work on autopilot, just getting through the day. But this is dangerous, not only for your health and your relationships, but for your school life too.
As when we begin to neglect our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, our ability to meet the needs of others can also be affected and we can find leadership begins to feel (if not become) unsustainable.
Particularly, given the challenges of School Leadership today, I believe it is therefore vital our leaders devote equal time and care into their personal lives and their professional lives, and establish a work-life balance that works for them and allows them to continue to lead and inspire in their schools.
That’s why I’ve decided to make our Complete Guide to Work-Life Balance for School Leaders free to download to support Headteachers and senior leaders to find greater balance in their roles, as they seek to deliver the best possible outcomes for our children…