With the ever increasing pace of change in schools today and heightened levels of public scrutiny and accountability, being a school leader today is hard emotional and psychological graft.
When change comes along and it is fast and furious [as has been the case in the education sector], you not only have to be able to manage the huge gamut of emotions and dissenting voices that often accompany change of this nature, you also have to be able to manage your own tangled web of thoughts and emotions as you respond to meeting the emotional needs of others and this is a far from easy process.
Day after day, you give and you give. Rarely is a balance achieved between what you give to others and what you give back to yourself. As a result your ability to remain emotionally resilient, so that you can weather the occasional storms of life as a school leader, is weakened and so too is your ability to remain socially aware so that you can maintain those relationships that will help you through the storms.
In today’s educational climate the school leaders who will succeed in their roles, will be those who know how to stay emotionally resilient and socially aware. Those who understand that if they are going to be effective in meeting the needs of others, they will have to become expert in understanding and meeting their own needs first.
So where do you begin?
Begin by understanding that school development is also about emotional development. The ability to meet the emotional needs of others is central to the levels of effectiveness displayed by school-leaders. The ability to do so is a requirement that increases during periods of stress.
The problem is however that your preparation for becoming a school-leader does not provide comprehensive training on understanding and responding to, other peoples’ emotional needs. Let’s be honest, we often have enough trouble understanding our own! You may feel that you are a novice in the field of understanding human emotion, yet your role demands that you become an expert. This often means that you give without receiving and even when the well runs dry, you attempt to become a miracle worker, still trying to meet the needs of others when you have absolutely nothing left to give.
When we ‘burn out’ (i.e. when our emotional needs are left unmet) we experience mental and emotional exhaustion and derive less satisfaction from our lives. Feelings of self-doubt creep in, as do also harmful ways of meeting our unmet emotional needs. Whether that involves alcohol, food, smoking or some other type of self-medication, we human beings are adept at finding ways to squash the truth of what we are really feeling.
We become so adept at it that sometimes we are oblivious to the fact that our habits and addictions are dampening our ability to be in tune with our emotions. We become used to living ‘emotions-less’ lives.
Preparing for change
Stop for one moment and think about your own experience of being a school leader. To what extent have you hidden the truth of what you are really feeling from yourself and others? What ‘coping’ strategies have you adopted that have helped you to ‘protect’ you from the emotional toil of school leadership. Common coping strategies include:
– Taking foolhardy risks
– Acting out of character
– Avoiding challenging situations
– Adopting a facade that all is well, even outside of work
– Playing it safe – staying in your comfort zone – even if emotionally it hurts to stay in that place
– Disconnecting from your own emotions and feelings
– Managing yourself and relationships from the ‘Head and disengaging with your ‘heart’
When energy levels are low and pressures are high, it is easy to understand why individuals do not see these types of behaviours as warning signals. Their measures of success become skewed. They begin to see success as simply getting to the end of each day – even if that means ending each day with a splitting headache. They have got through it. That’s all that matters.
But it is not all that matters. Their own health, their families, their friends, their life outside of school matters too. It is when school leaders recognise this that they become self-aware and realise that emotional resilience isn’t about putting on a mask or a brave face, because sooner or later the mask will slip. It is about being proactive and take positive steps that will help them to build better relationships with themselves and then with others.
When school leaders are able to build better relationships with themselves, they understand themselves better. They know what their values are and how they shape and impact upon their behaviours and how they are seen by others. These leaders are emotionally resilient because when the storms of school life come their way; they are so rooted in who they are, that their responses and behaviours are dictated not by someone else, but by their own deep moral compass.
These leaders have taken time to really explore and understand their values. They know where they come from and what they mean for them. They know how they match with the vision that they hold for themselves. They know that when acted upon they are more powerful than words and build respect, courage and self esteem, both in themselves and others that they lead and manage.
As a result these school leaders are also able to demonstrate that they are socially aware and are able to build the emotional bonds with others that are so crucial in the life of a school. School leaders with a high level of social awareness do more than sense other people’s emotions – they show that they care. And they are able to show that they care ways that are not detrimental to themselves.
They excel in investing in human process strategies that focus on building trust and empowering others. They seek to move away from being the ‘sage on the stage’, the one who is the solution provider, the one with all the answers and hence the one who is always giving. To being the ‘guide from the side’, the one who asks questions, the one who listens deeply and hence the one who grows and develops others, but crucially without sacrificing themselves.
4 Steps for Building Emotionally Resilience
1. Take a step back and ask yourself three key questions: A] “What kind of life am I living now as a school leader? B] “What kind of life do I want to be living as a lead a school leader?” C] “What do I need to do to get from A to B?”
2. Reflect on the degree to which you feel your own emotional needs are being met as a school leader. If some needs are not being adequately met, identify the types of relationships that you will need in and outside of school to maintain a deep sense of emotional well being and resilience
3. Reflect on your own leadership style and your level of giving. To what degree are you a ‘sage on the stage’ or a ‘guide from the side?
4. Get Coaching Support to help you build your resilience – a coach can help you to develop new behaviours, new ways of thinking and help you to develop a new internal narrative that will help you better manage the challenges of Headship and their impact on you as a person.
Becoming a Head teacher invariably means that whatever the problem, people trust and believe that you can fix it! Very often it can feel as though you are carrying the full weight of everyone’s expectations on your shoulders, with all eyes are on you, all the time.
It can feel like you have to keep that mask on, to stay armoured up and keep a check on your emotions, sometimes just to get through the day. But what so many people forget is that you’re still there underneath the mask.
You have feelings and emotions just like the rest of us. So it’s important you have a space where you can share your thoughts, worries, concerns and find solutions to issues of key importance to you and your school – and get back in touch with the person inside.
Particularly amidst the extremely challenging demands of being a Headteacher, I believe it’s vital that our leaders have opportunities to take their leadership amour off and get the support they need to bounce-back and keep going. When they do, leaders can…
– Develop their Authenticity as a Leader – When we take off our armour, we can find we experience greater alignment between our inner/private world of thoughts, feelings and emotions and our outer/public world, which by contrast is on constant display to others and again as you know can be exhausting!
– Build a greater understanding of their emotions how to develop greater levels of emotional resilience
– Be seen for who they truly are and learn to be compassionate and accepting of themselves
That’s why for the last 12 months, I’ve been been supporting leaders with free “Coaching for The Soul” calls to give leaders a chance to drop the mask and help them to find new inspiration to keep going towards their vision.
These calls are confidential and have “no strings attached”, so if you feel like you’d benefit from a chance to drop the mask like this, please do book a call with myself using the link below…
Places are limited – so if you are determined to take charge of your own well-being, book today to avoid disappointment.