It’s an understatement to say that life as a school leader can be bruising. The impact of the responses of disgruntled staff, a poor OFSTED report, complaints from parents or conflict with governors can send even the most resilient of leaders into a downward mental spiral.
When negative events occur, your confidence can take at hit. You can begin to feel as though you are not up to the job for which you have been appointed. From my own experience working with school leaders, nothing can be further from the truth. Many, if not all, are still up to the role. It’s simply that they need to be reminded of their own power within and steps they can take to feel like their former, confident selves again.
If you are feeling at a bit of a low ebb now, because of events that you are facing as school leader, set a few minutes aside to read this short blog. See if you can identify at least one step that you can take to rebuild your leadership confidence again.
Step 1: Change your Habits
When we’re feeling low, we can get stuck in habits that were initially adopted to comfort us, but if overused, may actually inhibit our ability to grow our confidence and self-esteem. I knew of one school leader, who hid every time she saw a particularly vexatious member of staff heading along the corridor towards her.
At first, she did it because her thought process was, “I just don’t have the time to deal with her right now”. However, overtime, this habit of hiding mean that she lost all confidence in her ability to not only deal with this member of staff, but also with any other challenging staff member. The steps that she had to take to help rebuild her confidence involved changing her habits. She had to stop hiding and find within herself the courage to be seen and show up, as the capable and confident leader that she truly was.
If you are hiding or avoiding something, because it simply feels too difficult to handle, ask yourself, “What’s the cost?” and if the cost is a knock to your self-confidence, make a commitment to yourself to do something about it.
Step 2: Become aware of your own body language
When our confidence takes a knock, it can be very hard to walk tall and exude an air of confidence and belief in ourselves. Even if our shoulders are only slightly slumped, we send an external message to others and internal message to ourselves that we are ill-at-ease.
Internally, stress hormones start to flood our system and only serve to lower our mood and sour our interactions. To raise our confidence, we need to understand and accept that by changing our posture we can in turn change our internal chemistry and hence how we feel about ourselves.
One of our Associates Justine Ballard has this to say about the importance of body language and how it impacts on our self-confidence.
“People with presence walk tall and look comfortable in their body. When we own our space, we are more likely to trigger positive hormones like testosterone, which help us feel brave and more powerful. Crossing our limbs and making ourselves small is more likely to trigger cortisol, the stress hormone. This has a role to play – but too much can affect our immune system and have an impact on our overall presence.
If it helps, you may want to watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on “Your Body Language May Shape Who You are” which explores this further. Whilst watching the talk consider, “How can a greater awareness of your body language, help you to rebuild your confidence when times are tough?”
Step 3: Remind yourself of your strengths and successes
A question that I often love to ask school leaders is, “What does it look and feel like when you are at your best?” Sadly, it’s not a question that is asked enough of those who lead our schools. Because if it was, we would see the transformative effect it has upon individuals, when they connect with a deeper sense of who they are and their purpose; when they experience the release of positive emotions that enable them to see new possibilities.
So, feeling low? Grab a pen and answer the question above or even better still, find someone who will listen to you and help you to go deeper with your responses.
Step 4: Demonstrate Self-Compassion
In other words, be kind to yourself. When things go wrong, the human brain has a tendency to turn up the volume on the voice of your inner critic. It’s not enough that you are already feeling awful, you don’t need your own brain to turn against you as well! But turn against you it will, if you are not conscious enough to recognise what is happening and turn that negative voice off!
So, when things take a turn for the worst, vow to be your own best friend! Talk to yourself in the way in which you would counsel a dear friend, who might be going through something similar and then notice the change; notice how you begin to feel lighter, notice that you can change the course and direction of your thoughts and be kinder to yourself.
The ability to demonstrate self-compassion is something we all need in life, particularly when grey clouds are overhead. Compassion promotes a sense of well-being; compassion either from ourselves or others, allows us to experience a depth of kindness, understanding and generosity of spirit that bolsters our inner resources and self-esteem.
An Opportunity to Build Self-Compassion and your Leadership Confidence
In order to sustain high levels of personal performance, confidence and motivation (particularly amidst the challenges of School Leadership), I believe our leaders need regular opportunities to be in relationship with other colleagues, where compassion is a key hall mark of all interactions.
They need chance to step back from the daily grind of the role and reflect on the leader they want to be, what inspires and drives them and what they need to do to keep their hope alive.
That’s why we offer our “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.
The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.
Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.
Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.
Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…