The 5 Characteristics of Resilient School Leaders

Over the last few years, I’ve seen more and more School Leaders struggling with the emotional and psychological cost of being a School Leader today and I have seen many leave the profession as a result.

We’re seeing how School Leadership has increasingly become a high-risk role and the detrimental impact that this has on the emotional and mental health of leaders across the profession. Many, recognising that their psychological health is at stake if they continue, have been forced to abandon their dreams for themselves and their school and have exited the profession early.

With the current pressures as they are, more than ever, our School Leaders need high levels of emotional resilience, if they are to remain in the role for the long-haul.

However, what does it mean to be a resilient school leader? What does it look like?

Well, I believe there are 5 key qualities that emotionally resilient School Leaders have in common…

1. They stay hopeful and focussed on their vision


Resilient School Leaders believe wholeheartedly in their vision and what their school can become. They understand the type of culture that needs to be instilled and the behaviours that they will need to model to give life to their vision.

Their vision of a better future for every child in their school fuels all their decisions and actions. They are keenly aware of the potential for growth that their vision holds. This belief that growth is a necessary part of their school’s development, keeps them committed to their own growth and development. Even in the darkest of times.

 2. They have a growth mind-set


Resilient School Leaders are wise enough to know that building great schools takes time. They are self-aware enough to know that the school improvement journey requires persistence and an ability to be at ease with ambiguity. Likewise, they are also aware of their blind spots and where they may need to reach out to others to develop their skills or knowledge that may need improvement.

They’re able to recognise that both themselves and their schools are in the process of growth and don’t allow themselves to be discouraged when results aren’t immediate. With this mind-set, instead of taking setbacks personally, resilient School Leaders treat themselves and others with patience and understanding.

When things don’t go to plan, these leaders look for the learning and lessons that can be taken away from what has occurred. In a crisis, a resilient School Leader doesn’t dwell on the problem or looks to attribute blame, but instead remains positive, open and searches for the solution.

3. They have a strong sense of self-worth


Resilient School Leaders have taken the time to get to know themselves. Reflection is a core attribute.  As a result, they are confident in their own strengths, they know their intrinsic value and believe in their ability to lead and inspire.

They don’t rely on others for validation of their own efforts or qualities, they are proud of who they are and what they have achieved. Their internal world is a greater determinant of their self-worth, rather than the external praise of others.

They’re able to accept responsibility for any mistakes that they make but with the knowledge that these don’t define their value as a person or quality as a School Leader. As a result, their state of mind is not easily perturbed and self-doubt is rarely given the opportunity to take hold.

4. They don’t need to control everything


Resilient School Leaders are comfortable with not controlling everything. They know how to come to terms with external circumstances; they understand that the only thing they can do is focus on what’s within their sphere of control – their own attitude, their own emotions, their own behaviour.

Instead of resisting what is happening, even if it’s not their preference, they accept circumstances they can’t change and remain positive that things will get better.

In difficult situations, rarely do these leaders become angry, frustrated or disillusioned. Instead they channel their focus and energy into managing their response and creating an environment in which positive solutions can be found.

5. Look after themselves in the role


Resilient School Leaders realise that it is not selfish to take care of their own needs first. They understand, as in the words of Parker Palmer….

Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

These leaders recognise that their personal needs are just one of the many important needs that must be met if a healthy work-life balance is to be achieved and if they are to sustain themselves for the long-haul.

When storm clouds pass their way, they don’t allow their emotional, psychological or physical needs to be neglected. They seek to find new ways of taking care of self that will enable them to lead themselves and others more effectively when challenges arise.

They make opportunity for genuine renewal at the end of each week, term and year, so that they are recharged and able to function on an optimum level when dealing with the vagaries of school life.

They are not afraid to ask for help when necessary and surround themselves with those who believe in them, are passionate about their well-being and know how to offer vital support. This support keeps them hopeful, passionate, committed and connected to their true vision and purpose.


Rising to the Challenges of Headship

From managing excessive workloads, the impact of budget cuts and high levels of personal accountability and public scrutiny – over the years, the role of Headship has always been fraught with challenges and pressures.
However, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic back in March 2020, sadly we’ve seen the intense demands on our School Leaders grow yet further.
Not only have leaders had to rapidly adapt to quickly changing government advice and establish new practices and protocols for virtual learning and health and safety monitoring, they’ve also been expected to provide support to their communities and inspiring leadership throughout these difficult times.
Having to manage months of relentless challenge and crisis management (alongside the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic has taken on all of  us) has proven to be extremely challenging even for the most experienced and resilient Heads.
And it is now perhaps no surprise that many School Leaders who are reporting feeling battle weary, beleaguered and burnt out. As a result, an NAHT poll back in November 2020 found that almost half of Headteachers plan to leave prematurely – and 70% say job satisfaction has fallen in the past year.
With this, in mind – I believe there’s never been a stronger case for the need to ensure that our School Leaders are properly supported; strategically, operationally and emotionally to ensure they not only survive in the headship role, but also thrive in their attempts to deliver the best outcomes for our children.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects. Yet still, many Heads remain endemically under-supported, without spaces the need to off-load and encouragement they need as they manage the burden of the weight that they have been forced to carry.
Friends and family might offer a listening ear, but again it isn’t easy. Unless they have walked in your shoes, it can feel like no-one really fully understands what you are going through.
However, I know from my own experience as a Headteacher and now as an Executive coach that personalised support is vital, if leaders are to keep their hope alive and stay connected to their vision, passion and purpose.
That’s why I’m now offering free 1:1 Coaching calls to give senior leaders a chance to:
–  Talk through and get support with the challenges they’re currently facing
–  Reflect on events and the impact they’re having
–  Gain clarity about their current situation and plan a way forward

Book Your Call

 If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!


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