Headteacher Alison Edwards considers the key attributes that make a good leader and looks at some of the strategies that can help grow the much-needed leaders of the future.
With 50% of headteachers and deputy headteachers apparently due to retire in the next ten years, we have a potential leadership crisis on our hands – so it’s vital that we all strive to develop the leaders of the future within our own schools.
The thought of having to try to write a list of generic attributes or characteristics of a good leader that is universally acceptable is a rather daunting task. However, while it is difficult to clearly define what makes a good leader, we all recognise the qualities when we see them. I think that all staff have leadership potential but some are naturally stronger than others.
The importance of good management skills is being greatly overlooked and under-emphasised at the moment. If leadership is ‘doing the right things’ and management is about ‘doing those things right’, good leaders may be judged externally by the results and successes that are achieved by their organisation. Internally, they are also judged on the processes and the management strategies that were put in place to achieve those results. A leader who is solely focused on the goal without giving sufficient thought to the processes that will take them there could leave staff feeling demotivated and demoralised. The goal may be achieved but it may not be possible to further build upon this. The key attributes and characteristics that, in my view, are important for good leadership and which we should look for in others are detailed in the box right.
Developing leadership in others When I was a new acting headteacher I had to form a new senior management team. Only one member of the team had any previous management experience and the other four hadn’t had any! This was a mixed blessing. On one hand it was reassuring that no one was likely to say ‘The last head never did that’ or ‘ We’ve seen that before and it won’t work’ and that everyone was very positive. On the other hand, I worried whether I had enough to offer them as a new headteacher for them to develop the skills and knowledge that they needed.
Each member of the senior management team was given a team to manage. We agreed structures such as meetings, training, performance management and communication methods that would be consistent across each team. We had some shared training together from the personnel consultant. Some staff were more confident than others and some wanted to watch me chair meetings with their teams first, for example, before working alongside me and then working on their own.
I felt flattered that I did in fact have skills that they respected and it’s been a real joy to watch them grow in confidence! The deputy headteacher has been managing the lunchtime supervisors but we have appointed a new senior lunchtime supervisor and the deputy head is coaching her so that she will be able to chair her team meetings as well as a range of other duties.
I really enjoy working with the senior management team. There is much genuine respect and support. Everyone is firmly committed to the agreed vision and values. We revise these each year with everyone and unpick them to see how they translate in the classroom. There is a good balance of personalities and attributes across the team. There are two members of the team that I would say have fairly similar attributes to myself whereas the other three are very different, including my deputy. This happened more by chance than by deliberation, but has been invaluable. There could be a danger of creating a team of those with whom you felt a natural affinity because they are most like yourself, but you run the risk of creating a team of ‘yes’ people. The benefit for me has been of having other leaders who look at things from a different perspective.
It’s important to create a school that is strongly focused on learning and improvement. Last year I did my MA, and this year I am delighted that four of the staff are working on MAs. Two of these have been funded by the LEA and the other two have been funded 75% by the school with agreement from the governing body). The culture needs to be open, positive and supportive. Nothing pleases me more than when someone knocks on my door with an idea or suggestion, whether it be a TA wanting to know if she can start a new club that she has an idea for or a coordinator who is keen to research something linked to school improvement.
I remember feeling disillusioned after knocking on a headteacher’s door with some ideas that I had and being told she would ‘think about it’, only to hear no more for two years. Enthusiasm needs to be encouraged. Some ideas may need more thinking and developing than others but this is an opportunity for staff to develop leadership skills. If a suggestion is really not feasible then staff need to really understand the reasons for this.
The wisdom of distributing leadership The workload of the headteacher is now so huge and complex that it is not only extremely wise to distribute leadership across a school, it is a necessity. There are so many opportunities to give staff to enable them to develop their leadership and management skills – from mentoring a student or NQT to being a subject leader, school governor, team or project leader, member of the senior management team and so on.
I have found that time is actually the thing that most staff request in order to perform their job. I have also discovered that if staff have the time to do a job well, have the necessary support or coaching if needed and praise when they’ve achieved the job well they are motivated and willingly take on more leadership roles.
Growing and nurturing leaders: qualities required for good leadership
Integrity A leader needs integrity for others to respect them and listen to them. They need to set the moral tone in their organisation and be a role model for professionalism. It’s important for leaders to be able to keep their word, to ‘walk the talk’ and to tell the truth.
Passion To be a leader you need to be able to communicate your passion to others and inspire them to do great things. To be able to inspire others, leaders need to be optimistic and enthusiastic whilst still retaining a sense of realism!
Flexibility The fast pace of change in the world of education may have contributed to the recruitment issues a few years ago, but the leaders of the future have got to accept that further change is inevitable as we strive to further improve the quality of the education in our schools.
Vision Leaders usually have some kind of vision – it’s important that they have a strong sense of direction, the drive to ‘see it through’ and the ability not only to communicate this to others but also to enthuse them.
The ability to reflect and self-evaluate It’s important that staff develop the confidence to be able to reflect on what they have achieved and to learn from their successes as well as their mistakes. Staff need to be encouraged to take some risks and learn from their mistakes – just like our pupils.
Self-awareness and ‘people skills’ Leaders must be able to listen to others and accept that sometimes someone else has a better idea than them. They need to be aware of how they are viewed by others and to consider whether they need to address some of those views. Emotional stability is also vital. If the mood of the leader is unpredictable staff can become wary and insecure. It is equally important for leaders need to be aware of the ‘mood’ of the staff and to remember what is reasonable and practical. Like class teachers, they must not have favourites, but try to give everyone equal attention. It’s really important to acknowledge the successes of others and the extra hours and effort that staff have given.
As a headteacher I think that it’s important to step back and let others ‘bask in the sunshine’. Most of us certainly didn’t enter the profession for financial reward and often the best reward of all is when we do something that does ‘make a difference’. Praise, both for adults and children, is the best motivator of all.