Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Leading in a crisis

(With thanks to Jon Standen for passing on this meme!)

Steve Munby gave an excellent presentation yesterday evening in which he presented his thoughts on school leadership in the pandemic era. He structured what he said around six principles, which I share with you here:

  1. Show up and 'walk into the wind' Crisis moments are not the time to delegate. People need the reassurance of your physical presence more than ever in times of crisis. Clear your diary and be in school alongside your staff.
  2. Focus on leadership as service. Steve suggested that rather than asking: 'What kind of leader do I want to be?' ask: 'What kind of leadership is wanted of me?' Remember that in leadership context matters - leaders need to change their style to suit the context they find themselves in. In a crisis, the chances are you'll need to adapt your leadership style for the new reality.
  3. Ask for help. Steve encouraged delegates to become 'invitational leaders' who actively look for help from others. We were encouraged to seek out mentors - people we could call on for help and advice. We were encouraged to be honest with ourselves and accept when we don't know enough. Asking for help builds trust. By revealing your own vulnerability you encourage others to reveal theirs too and to be honest with you. 
  4. Be decisive, but quick to review and amend. It's likely that in a crisis you'll make a mistake. Own up to it, be prepared to U-turn, don't soldier on just to save face. People will respect you for your honesty and humanity.
  5. Deal with the urgent, but make space for the strategic and for the future. It's easy to get engrossed in the immediate during a crisis as a leader. Steve encouraged us not to neglect the big-picture stuff. Steve referenced the work done during the darkest days of WW2 on the setting up of the NHS as an example of thinking ahead even in the midst of a crisis. If the leader him or herself doesn't have the time or the headspace for strategic thinking then there's no reason not to delegate it. The point is that strategic thinking shouldn't stop during a crisis.
  6. Be authentic. This last point hammered home the need for honesty and transparency in a crisis. It may well be that controversial or unusual things need to be carried out during a crisis. Mike stressed the importance of managing up in this sort of situation and spelling out to the Board and/or your line-managers what actions you are taking. As Mike explained, if nothing else, getting their agreement makes it harder for them to dismiss you if your solutions don't bear immediate fruit.