Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a post about Donald Trump (there are enough of those in my Facebook news feed right now…) but the current climate has made me consider the role of leadership and the qualities that make a good leader. I have also been influenced to make this post because of my own professional development and first forays into leadership within a school.
I am a teacher and, whilst I didn’t begin my career having particular aspirations to lead–meaning that I wasn’t especially focused on ‘climbing the ladder’ and becoming an assistant head or even eventually a head teacher–I have taken on more and more responsibility over the past three years, kind of organically, and I am currently studying for a National Professional Qualification in Middle Leadership. I co-ordinate provision for Able, Gifted and Talented provision across the whole school and I have other roles that require elements of leadership, such as mentoring and assessing trainee teachers. I have recently been invited to sit on the interview panel at a London university during their next round of prospective trainee teacher interviews.
It is funny when you realise that you are no longer the newbie in your workplace. You are well-known and somewhat established, and you are no longer asking so many questions–new people are coming to you for answers. It is a nice feeling because there is an element of trust, particularly in a school, that comes with sticking around for a while.
I think one of the hardest things though is to let your mind catch up with your professional progress. It seems to be a facet of the human condition to feel that we are not quite there yet. Not knowledgeable enough. Not qualified enough. Not confident enough. Not charismatic enough.
But the truth is, anyone can be a leader.
Some people are born leaders, just as some people are born athletes or musicians, but most success comes from hard work, perseverance, a belief in oneself and a passion for your subject.
I have learnt by observing colleagues in my school, and by my own experience, that we are never really ready for the roles we take on. We learn on the job. We make mistakes, we admit our mistakes, we continue to ask questions and we do our best. We act in good faith, we keep those relationships with colleagues strong and honest, and we simply make decisions that we have considered as carefully as we can, and take responsibility for them, for better or worse.
It takes courage to be in the arena, to be open to scrutiny and to be willing to make big decisions that can affect a number of people.
No one person will ever get it right all the time. But isn’t it better to be having a go, rather than sitting back, complaining about someone else’s efforts?
I credit the wonderful leaders I have known with inspiring me to take on more challenging roles and to trust in my own experience and abilities. After an awful first experience of teaching, where I worked under a head teacher who regularly humiliated staff and was not at all focused on well-being or morale, these few, special people have unknowingly shown me that it is possible to be a great leader whilst being compassionate, understanding, approachable and humble.
In fact, I would venture to say that the above characteristics are prerequisites for being a good leader.
I feel so lucky to have known these people and to have learnt from their example. I am only just beginning my leadership journey, and who knows where it will take me, but I do feel that burgeoning confidence–that little voice inside that says “I may not know everything, but I care. And I want to try to make a difference.”
Whatever field you are in, I urge you to not immediately write yourself off as a leader. You may think “Why me?” But if you care, if you have passion, if you are prepared to keep learning and to make the effort to relate to your colleagues in an honest and respectful way, why shouldn’t it be you?
The world, certainly the world of education, needs more people who are passionate practitioners willing to use their experience for the better, rather than more ‘born’ business managers who have little experience of the shop floor and, sometimes little knowledge of the needs and relationships in our field.