Having just had my first leadership development meeting and been inspired to get involved with #WomenEd North East, I thought I’d jump on the digital bandwagon musing about the nature of leadership (and hopefully achieve it without it becoming a bit of a buzz-word soup).
Good leadership is about looking after people. It means being aware of pressures and workload. It means not piling another ‘little thing’ on without removing something else, because all those little things add up and the price may not be paid in school. Most teachers can think of stories where those little extra things make a difference between a teacher doing the little extra, marking their books or seeing their family/participating in their hobby/ seeing their partner. If they feel their family has to come last, then something has gone drastically wrong. Leadership is about priorities and understanding you can’t have a list of two-dozen priorities; that would be like Nicki Morgan and Michael Gove wanting all schools to be above average. It just doesn’t work. Good leaders help people to prioritise and to work smarter; they know when to remove a burden and they know the value of a chat over a cup of tea (or beverage of choice). Essentially good leaders know how to build people up with positivity and support.
Leadership is about having a vision and taking people with you as you move towards achieving it. If by ‘taking people with you’ conjures up an image of worn-out, apathetic people trudging along behind, then that’s not quite what I’m after. To take people with you is to give them a reason to buy into whatever it is you’re leading on so that they want to be involved. If people can’t see the benefit of a new initiative or way of doing things, then they’re not likely to get on board – least of all if it means more work for them when they’re already feeling overwhelmed. As a leader, your passion and enthusiasm is the driver towards other people achieving, but you need other people to engage to embed any new ideas if you want to avoid tokenistic nods to long-neglected initiatives in observations.
Good leadership is about collaboration. An effective leader can’t be an island or a one-person-wonder. Good leaders plan seeds and give space for them to grow. Good leaders understand that just because their way works for them, it doesn’t make it the only way. They know that a leadership post doesn’t mean they are the fountain of all knowledge and they know who to call on for expertise in other areas – crucially, they give credit to other people.
That said, good leadership is not just about talking the talk and it doesn’t always require a promoted post. Every time somebody creates something in a team and shares it with others, that’s a form of leadership. They’re helping a group of people to move forward. They’re showing awareness of their colleagues and sharing helps everyone get better, whilst maintaining something resembling a work life balance. Sometimes there’s a tendency to overlook this kind of leadership because it’s not a ‘look at me’ form of leadership. But the more experienced colleague who sits down with an NQT or someone quickly moderates somebody’s coursework is a form of leadership, and it would be a travesty if this informal leadership was pushed to one side. Teams built on an ethos of informal collaboration nurture leadership skills within everyone.
This isn’t to say that leadership is always warm and fuzzy because difficult circumstances and conversations can and do come up. But I truly believe that if people feel you have their professional interests and well-being at heart, they’re much more likely to respond positively to your leadership. Leadership is all about people.