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 — having trusting relationships with people who back you up, both in school and out.
If you’re like most Heads in our school system, you’re incredibly undersupported. There’s no one you can talk to who really gets your job and all the stresses that come with it, leaving you stuck with coping mechanisms and busy-ness to get you through the day — not a great set up for good leadership.
When you do get the support you need through trusting relationships, everything changes. You can finally step into your vision, passion, and purpose; and you can make choices from both your head and your heart.
What’s more, it’s the only way that you can truly transform a school. When you are getting the support you need, the whole climate of your school changes, becoming open, creative, and vibrant in a way that no manual or policy can create.
The eight steps to making this happen:
1. Recognise that vulnerability is courageous. In the “one mistake and you’re out” environment that education has become, it’s incredibly hard to be vulnerable! But it really is only through vulnerability that we grow as people, and it’s only when you grow that you can lead.
2. Actually follow through on that by asking for help when you need it. OK, so you’ve watched Brene Brown’s TED talk and you’ve read Daniel Goldman, so you think you’re set on the whole emotional intelligence/vulnerability thing. But this isn’t something you can do in theory. You have to actually take action and ask for help when you’re feeling vulnerable.
3. Realise that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself. If you don’t do the work to develop self knowledge and self awareness, you simply won’t have the capacity to effectively lead those under you.
4. Create spaces where you can let down your guard. So often, it feels like you have to wear three inch thick armour when you’re walking around at school. But you have to have spaces where you can put that down and just be yourself or you’ll burn out.
5. Learn to be honest with yourself. It’s so easy to make your way through the day on autopilot, pressing yourself and your needs down under a mountain of busy-ness. But the more you do that, the harder it is to break out of that pattern and actually grow. Although being honest with yourself can be uncomfortable and even scary, it’s crucial to becoming a great leader.
6. Don’t buy the SuperHead myth. Let’s be honest: you’re a person, which means that sometimes, you’re going to hurt, you’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to get scared. That suit you put on when you go to school isn’t made of Teflon! You’ve got to be honest about your own needs and weaknesses so you can get the support you need.
7. Differentiate yourself from the role. Just because you work as a school leader doesn’t mean that that’s all you are. Don’t let yourself get subsumed by the role: you’re always a person first.
8. Fill your own cup first. There’s no way that you can be a great leader if you’re constantly run down and stressed out. You’ve got to fill your own cup up first before you can ever start giving of yourself to other people, so it’s essential that you find someone with whom you can do that.
Here’s what this absolutely doesn’t mean:
I’m not saying that you should go around opening up and seeking support from everyone around you. In the environment you’re in, that’s not going to get you the results you want, and more likely than not is going to get you labelled as a problem.
But you do need to have this type of support in your life, which is why I encourage you to get a coach. Someone who’s independent, someone who has no agenda except your own, and ideally someone who’s been in school leadership themselves. It makes all the difference in the world to have someone that you can grow with, and it will make all the difference to your school too.
Are you a school leader who’s tired of trying to go it alone? We’re here to help! Email email@example.com or call 0208 767 7664 to set up a short, no strings conversation.