Most Heads I know and work with are adept at dealing with conflict. That is not to say they either like or enjoy managing disputes, but they have adjusted well enough to the fact that they comes with the territory.
However, I have on occasion had to work with Heads, who have found that their once finely-honed conflict management skills have become somewhat dulled. They are confused, battle with doubt and anxiety and are often uncertain of the steps that they can take to help sharpen their skills again.
After letting them explain their situation to me and asking a few searching questions, the reasons soon become apparent as to why they are feeling stuck and unable to move forward. Very often, it is because they are making one or all of the three mistakes as outlined below.
1. They are stuck in the past
A past conflict, has left them feeling battered, bruised and deeply hurt. The situation could have been anything from an aggrieved parent to a vexatious member of staff, but whatever the situation, it has left its mark. Something about the situation, has left the individual doubting their capabilities as a leader.
Sometimes, this is due to the fact that the outcome was not as they had hoped for and they now feel that this is a slight on their leadership/character. Or they had felt particularly isolated and unsupported when the situation arose and are stuck with feelings of anger, resentment, hurt and remorse.
Understandable feelings, but they don’t help individuals to move forward. Instead, when similar conflicts arise, reminding them of the past, they are emotionally triggered back to times of feeling helpless, alone, angry etc. and as a result do not have the wherewithal to develop an alternative emotional response.
To avoid making this mistaking and staying stuck in the past, it’s important to recognise the difficult situations that may have left what seems like an indelible mark and find a way to process related emotions. So that when situations arise that have echoes of the past, you are not cowered by your own debilitating emotions, but instead are able to respond from a more controlled and confident place.
2. They take the line of least resistance
This goes hand in hand with the point above. When you are stuck in the past and can’t see an alternative way forward, when similar conflict situations arise, sometimes the best course of action appears to be to not to take any action at all!
But every Head I have met, who made this choice (for what at the time felt like very good and plausible reasons) has come to realise that this was ultimately not the best decision. For the line of least resistance, very often leads to impoverished outcomes for the individual who has chosen this path. When conscious of this fact and the detrimental impact of their choice, most Heads chose to act differently.
They chose to take action. They chose to embrace any associated uncomfortable feelings, knowing that their actions will lead to personal growth and an increased capacity for dealing with conflicts when they arise.
3. They adopt the same leadership style for all conflict situations
This point also relates to the one above – when conflicts arise the leader has a tendency to adopt the leadership style that they feel most comfortable with. The leader who is more towards the affiliative end of the leadership spectrum, will have used a more collegial approach to build teams and create a great sense of cohesiveness with others. But when conflicts arise, this style may become their Achilles’ heel. Driven by a deep-seated need to be liked, they very often give away far too much ground, acquiesce and place the needs of others before their own.
Whilst, for leaders who veer more towards the authoritarian end of the leadership spectrum the reverse tends to be true. Conflicts become even more entrenched because of an inability to listen and take on board other perspectives.
To avoid this very common mistake, it’s important to rehearse and to see yourself differently. To imagine yourself using different language and adopting a manner that is different from what you (and possibly others) have become accustomed to. When you are able to do this, you’ll be well on your way to once again feeling confident in yourself and your ability to manage the range of conflicts, that come with the life of being a Head.
Developing more Positive and Effective School Relationships
There is all kinds of advice out there about what makes a good School Leader, from certifications to strategies to taking the latest seminar. But what so many people miss out on is actually the most fundamental elements of good School Leadership — relationships.
In my years of working with School Leaders, I’ve learned that one of the most important skills any School Leader can have is the ability to effectively manage and nurture personalities and relationships within their school – as quite simply, when school relationships are positive – the outcomes are often more likely to be positive too.
Conversely, when relationships are strained or neglected, school teams can struggle to effectively work together and staff can find themselves increasingly becoming disconnected from what the school and their leaders are trying to achieve. In turn, leaders can find themselves spending a large amount of their time dealing with people management issues, rather than focussing on the more strategic aspects of the role.
Yet in spite of this, many leaders have not received significant training or opportunities to develop skills that could help them to deal with difficult conversations, identify how best to manage and maximise the performance.
That’s why one of the key ways that we support School Leaders fulfil their vision is by offering a 4 Day Coaching Programme designed to provide Senior School Leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to apply a range of coaching skills that can help improve the performance of those they lead and manage.
Our four-day coaching programme that will equip you with the skills for:
– Managing difficult conversations
– Understanding how to get the best out of individuals with challenging behaviours
– Understanding yourself better and knowing how to draw upon your strengths to get the best out of others
– Developing your relationship management skills by helping you understand how to identify and respond to different personality types
– Nurturing a Coaching Culture in your School so that you can support members of your team