The Notebook- What Kind of Leader Do You Want To Be?

Note to self- what kind of leader do I want to be?

So… After getting married in Barcelona and a fantastic honeymoon in Majorca and Santorini, one of my books of choice was Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way. I love his creativity, the ‘screw it, let’s do it’ attitude and the fact that he seems to be just a nice down to earth bloke that’s done really well for himself! He appears to genuinely care about his staff and want to do the best for them. The book in question was absolutely common sense but really made me think hard about who I am as a leader, whether it be in the classroom leading my students to become all that they can or leading staff.  The purpose of this post is to share my reflections with you and hopefully prompt you to think about what kind of leader you want to be. I’m sure that like me many of you have had the pleasure of working alongside some truly inspirational leaders. Maybe some of you have worked with leaders that have made you think ‘well that’s taught me a lesson of how not to lead people!’ I’m also sure at one time or another, maybe not now but in the future, your experiences will make you think about the kind of leader you really can be… (Ps- as there’s so much to think about, I’ll post my thoughts in 2 parts over a few weeks)

wedding pic
Part 1-
I want to be…
A leader that listens
Richard Branson talks quite a lot about this in his book. It might sound quite straight forward but do you really listen? You may sit there and nod your head, but how do you show your students and staff that you truly are listening? If they tell you something that’s uncomfortable to hear, do you ignore this or pursue it further and really work to do something about it?  Many times, I’ve heard about or seen leaders that surround themselves with ‘yes’ people who will tell them what they want to hear, or shield them from the harsh realities. If you’re not open to all feedback, does that make you an effective leader? I want staff and students to challenge me (in the nicest possible way) and I’d hate to think that I had my head buried in the sand because I wasn’t truly listening. Listening really well is a complex skill as it often involves reading between the lines and perhaps working out what staff are really trying to tell you. Note to self- listen to staff at all levels of the organisation and really work to respond to what they say.

I want to be
A leader that can own up to mistakes and accept responsibilities
I think if you’re truly comfortable in your own skin you can do this easily. Everyone makes mistakes. We tell our students every day that the best learning comes from failing, from making mistakes, so why do many leaders find it difficult to do this? It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact it’s a sign of strength to stand up there and say ‘do you know what. I didn’t get this quite right this time. I’ve listened to feedback and this is the way I’m proposing moving forward with this’ Leading a whole school approach to teaching and learning has meant that I’ve had to do this on several occasions and for me it felt right, rather than blunder down a path that was going to result in confusion for too many staff. On other occasions I’ve been honest with myself and my students that perhaps I could have taught something in a better way. Note to self- always be honest.

I want to be
A leader that demonstrates integrity, honesty and trust
Leaders at all levels often have to make difficult decisions. We can’t keep everyone happy all of the time, but I believe that if we hold onto a set of core principles, are transparent in our actions and do what we say we are going to do then we are half way there. Too many times I hear about or see leaders making bad decisions because of an inability to be honest. An example of this is the common practice of interviewing staff when they have no intention of appointing them. How demoralising and soul destroying is this? If I wasn’t ready for a particular role, I’d hope to be told that and be supported in developing myself rather than face the daunting process of an interview and tasks that I’m never going to be successful in. This may be a hard message for staff to hear, but if it’s done with honesty, and a leader is known for this transparency then staff will trust them and ultimately no matter how hard it may be, accept their decision. I also think it’s clear to witness a leader who is straight talking and demonstrates integrity, honesty and truth. Note to self- always remain true to yourself.

I want to be
A leader that is accessible
How frustrating is it if your door is always closed or your students can’t find you to get that little bit of extra support with their coursework assignment? How do staff feel when the soonest appointment they can get with you is in 2 weeks time? The key here is prioritisation and delegation. Staff are our most important resource and students are our priority so if we have to stay later or move the diary appointments around to be more accommodating then so be it! I once worked with a leader who would say ‘I haven’t got time now but maybe later’ and I (as well as many others I expect) was left feeling irritated and thinking yes but when exactly! The best leaders I know build time into their week for staff. They go and visit their staff in their working areas (I remember nothing worse as an NQT as being summoned to the head’s office and not being told why!) Note to self- make sure staff and students know that my door is always open.

I want to be
A leader that is approachable
Again Richard Branson believes that this is key to a successful business. He talks very much about encouraging his staff to be open and be confident in being able to share their ideas. He focuses on building a culture of collaboration where everyone’s ideas are valued rather than a culture of fear where instead people are focused on doing the perceived ‘right thing’  Everyone has the right to come to work happy and with a sense of being fulfilled; an expectation that if they have a great idea they will be listened to. A friend of mine recently told me about her idea to get an allotment up and running at her school as part of focus on teaching students about living healthy. She spoke with passion and enthusiasm about talking to her Head about this, knowing that she would be listened to. A Head I’ve worked with used to willingly fund special projects that would benefit the students. Note to self- encourage staff to share their opinions without feeling that it’s a career limiting move if their ideas happen to be different to what’s in my head!!!

Richard Branson
So…. What kind of leader do you want to be?

Jane Rayson
August 2015