Monday, 7 September 2020

My leadership philosophy

 My leadership philosophy

I’ve been a senior leader in schools for nearly a decade now. During that time I’ve done some things I’m extremely proud of and also some things that, looking back, I hang my head in shame over. I’ve grown and changed as a leader. My 35-year old-self was cringe-makingly self-confident - back then I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. It’s a cliché, but now, ten years older, I appreciate the wisdom of Aristotle that: 

‘..the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.’ 

Nonetheless, at this point in my career, the injunctions below are the closest things I have to a philosophy of leadership. I use them to remind myself of the leader I aspire to be:

  • Walk the walk. This means that leaders - however senior -  should teach, and still devote time to the art of the classroom. It also means they need to be prepared to muck-in. It’s not a bad idea to be amongst the staff stacking up the chairs at the end of a parents’ evening, say. Nothing irritates staff more than a sense that their leaders are not ‘in the trenches’ with them. 

  • Have a sense of humour. The ashen-faced leader, brow furrowed with the seriousness of it all, always earnest, never fun, is not my style. The ability to laugh at oneself is an invaluable quality. Self-deprecation and a willingness to poke fun at the more outlandish educational fads are good things.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep people informed, regularly and across multiple channels. Staff like to know what’s happening, why and when. If things must be kept secret, then treating staff as adults and explaining why a message isn’t being given at the moment is itself important. Treat. People. Like. Adults.

  • Give people your undivided attention. Good leaders make time for small talk. However stressful the circumstances, however much the inbox is filling up, good leaders listen and engage. They ask the staff how they are, what they did at the weekend, how the family are etc. They are interested in people. If Bill Clinton could make people feel that they were the only person in the room, with all the travails that come with being US President, then so can even the busiest school leader.

  • Consult, co-opt, involve. People crave agency. If they feel that they’re listened to and able to make a difference then they’re happy. Sometimes someone just has to make a call (see below). But in most instances consultation is a good thing. Empower people by turning conversations towards solutions - arrived at autonomously - not problems. People who feel they’ve had a hand in solution-making are much more likely to get behind any solution eventually arrived at.

  • ‘Eat the frog’. Mark Twain observed that ‘If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day’. Occasionally no-one knows what to do - a wicked problem arrives. In the worst cases, it boils down to choosing the least bad of a range of bad options. If there’s time, gather all the information - people will be reassured that you arrived at your decision from a position of knowledge; then make a decision. Communicate it clearly, take responsibility for it, and explain the rationale. But don’t vacillate. Eat the frog.

  • Be honest. Be humble. Admit to your mistakes, be self-deprecating, allow others their moment in the limelight, nudge people forward. If you do make a mistake - and you will - come clean. Nothing takes the wind out of the sails of malcontents more quickly than searing honesty.

So there you have it. No-one seems to comment on blogs these days, but if you happen to be minded to, I'd love to know if you think I've missed anything out or if there's anything here you take issue with.