A reflection on Leadership
Leadership is a word that is used a lot in education. I have actively taken leadership roles in the past few years, this has been through coaching football teams, leading school initiatives and also leading change in people. I used to find it hard to step up to leadership positions as grabbing the spotlight isn’t really in my nature, however, I saw it as a key part of my development and sought out different opportunities to lead. Through this post, I am going to summarize my thoughts thus far on my own style of leadership and observations on leadership in general.
To start there is the structured hierarchal style of leadership, of managers and administration. This is necessary, in any institution and I often find it strange how leaders themselves attach negative connotations to this aspect of their role. Structures are needed and a leader has to be a manager. How leaders go about this can often lead to negativity. I find that openness and transparency are key here and it takes a principled leader to uphold this. Colleagues are not always going to work harmoniously and that is why we need policies, agreements and contracts in place to govern these rules. Again policies and contracts and the like are often seen as negative but they are necessary, leaders entering situations without the backing these provide are doing themselves and colleagues a disservice. Such policies should be contributed to by all members of the staff for them to be completely useful. In order to lead effectively, you need a solid foundation from which to lead from. With the above in place, you can now get to the interesting stuff.
How do you become a visionary or inspirational leader? It obviously sounds great, who wouldn’t want to have that label. It does sound a little grandiose for my liking though. However, if we separate what I believe are two different elements of leadership; managing and leading. The leading part becomes how do you lead change, now whether you are inspirational or visionary in this change is often up for debate, but I do believe the most important aspect of being a leader is the ability to lead change, no matter how small or grand. I am in no way advocating the use of terms like;`
change leader` or `thought leader’ though. Those terms are just clever marketing and a way for self-serving people to exult themselves or sell a book. Anyway, before this post turns into a rant and the formulation of my own TED talk lets get back to the matter at hand; how have I led change and what have I learned?
Leading change in others
The most difficult part of leading change; is leading change in others. That is influencing people and helping others to change a part of their practice or way of thinking. If this is done effectively it can be immensely rewarding for both you and the beneficiary. Please don’t read any sinister overtones into these words I am in no way recommending ways to coerce or indoctrinate colleagues. Although I have seen this done far too many times in education by the latest buzz words and flashy salesman types. I am referring more to the process of taking a good idea or project and encouraging its conception and growth in others so it becomes either bigger in scale or more embedded. To start with your project should be good and there is only one way you will know, open it up to honest scrutiny. To your colleagues, to other professionals, read the research and basically pay your dues. If you can’t convince yourself first, then its back to the drawing board.
An important role of being a leader is having conversations with colleagues. It sounds simple enough but so many of us forget to do this or do it badly. This isn’t a quick stop and chat in the corridor but make time to go and sit down and talk things through, have an idea of what you want to discuss but don’t go with a fixed agenda as you have to flexible and show a genuine willingness to change and act on it. If the other person doesn’t feel or see that then the conversation is one sided and you might as well have just sent an email. Also, have plans in place and show that you have thought about the next steps and direction of the project even if it doesn’t get there. Share that vision.
Transparency is the one word I always come back to when asked what makes a good leader. It is essential to be transparent in your dealings at all times, without it, you cannot build trust and without trust, you cannot build effective relationships. Always be transparent especially when discussing the impact of time and work schedules with colleagues. Everyone is busy and you need to prove that your project is worth it, in relation to the work others will put in. This is especially hard when you are not directly managing colleagues or even when these colleagues are hierarchically higher than yourself. I always lean towards a professional manner in my dealings with colleagues and this has to be maintained throughout. That doesn’t mean you can’t be approachable and have a joke at times, but you must be consistent, it is important not to convey mixed messages in how you deal with everyone involved in the project. Again transparency is key.
Whose project is it anyway?
This comes down to the scale and the impact of the project, the greater of either of these things the less ownership you should have in the project. That’s not to say you should remove yourself or step aside, job done! Yet you want to create and foster a shared ownership of the project. Like teaching a child how to ride a bike the effective leader should know how much control to administer and more importantly when to let go. For me, this is the steps to take in moving towards a model of distributed leadership. Like the child on the bike you also need to allow people to fall, they will learn more by getting back up again. Without allowing others the time to develop and try new things the project will stall. Leading change in others is about interdependence and trusting they will make their own decision sometimes in line with what you agree in, sometimes not. However, if everyone is part of a culture of honest critique and open dialogue then that debate will only make the collective vision and goal stronger. An effective leader should be wanted and not necessarily needed.