Having spent over 20 years in senior leadership roles in schools and 15 years as a primary headteacher it would be fair to say that I remain fascinated by the whole concept of leadership; Why some people enter into it and others choose not to, and in particular why some school leaders maintain their resilience over time and others do not.
My interest comes from personal experience. Having had six months away from school in 2007 with work-related stress and anxiety few people expected me to return. Return I did though, perhaps a little wiser and a little more self-aware.
The whole notion of sustainable leadership is central to my second book, ‘Ten Traits of Reslience: Achieving Positivity and Purpose in School Leadership’ (Bloomsbury 2018). Having spent five years now, working as a speaker and author, I have interviewed many leaders, at all levels, who have stood the course of time in the ever-changing and pressured environment that we call modern education.Most of these leaders have certain traits in common which I have distilled down to ten (a nice even number!)
First amongst these is having a clear sense of personal purpose.
All animals have a sense of purpose deeply hard wired into our primitive, or reptilian, brain as it is sometimes known. That purpose is to survive; our fight or flight response. What sets humans apart from other animals is that we are capable of rational, sophisticated thinking and the ability to make clear choices for ourselves. We crave a sense of direction and purpose that is influenced by our decision making.
Purpose, is a necessary component of a happy and fulfilling life as a school leader at any level.
Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’(Penguin 2009) talks about ‘What, How and Why’. Many organisations, schools included, get so embroiled in the ‘What’. (E.g. What can we do to improve?) and the ‘How’ (How can we achieve that improvement?) That they lose sight of the ‘Why’, the motivation that drew them into the role in the first place. It’s true. Think back over your last five staff meetings and what were they about? Chances are they were about the ‘What’ and the ‘How’. I do get it. Thing are tough particularly if you are under the cosh after an unfavourable inspection but, re-connecting with your ‘Why’ from time to time is important for all staff in schools, whatever their role, but for none more so than school leaders. These are the people who shape the vision and set the pace, whatever their leadership style may be. Without a clarity of your sense of purpose (your Why) it is difficult to establish a set of values that you can then measure and align your decision making to.
Most people will say that their ‘Why’ is to make a difference. Great, but can you be more specific?
My challenge? Write down your ‘Why’ in more than twenty but less than fifty words. It really focusses the mind.
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