I’m often fascinated to hear about other people’s career journeys – how did they end up where they are? Who influenced them? What factors of that journey made them who they are today? How did the journey influence their vision and practice? What have they learnt from others along the way?
I find the whole topic really interesting and in particular how much experiencing other leaders helps to shape us in the leadership role ourselves. Does a leader who has worked under a limited number of leaders in their journey have a disadvantage compared to someone who has worked under a variety of leaders? There is no hard and fast rule but I can’t help feeling that it can only be a positive to have worked under a variety of leaders as you have a first hand experience of the strengths and weaknesses of different leadership styles and approaches used.
Below are the leadership styles that I have encountered in my career and the impact they have had:
In the first two years of my teaching career I worked for a truly outstanding headteacher. He was one of those leaders who instantly makes it known that they have complete faith in your ability. The way he led the school made me want to be a headteacher from day one. Some teachers see moving to a headship as a sell out – I have never felt this way because he helped me to see the big picture and the difference a great leader could make to a whole community. He had a democratic style of leadership that enabled him to get the best from the team whilst also setting out high standards and expectations.
The second headteacher I worked under was a complete contrast to the first. He had a laissez faire approach to leadership. I know some staff loved working for him but personally I felt that he offered the school no leadership or direction. I found this to be a challenging place to work because ultimately the standards were low and there were no consistent expectations. At the time I disliked being there immensely but when I think back now I can appreciate that as a leader it was where I gained my most valuable learning experiences. When your beliefs and principles are tested to the maximum it is excellent for helping develop your vision and how you plan to lead in the future. I like to think of this head as ‘The Challenge’ because he really pushed on my thinking in education all be it inadvertently.
The third headteacher I worked under had a very direct style of leadership and was ultimately quite authoritarian in his approach whilst also deploying a paternalistic approach with some members of staff. Whilst I found that this leader provided a high level of challenge, I enjoyed working for him enormously. He played a central role in two key decisions that would lead to me becoming a headteacher. Firstly, he provided the way out of the second school and believed that I had potential. The second key moment was where I had applied for internal promotion to the SLT and made a real mess of it. Rather embarrassingly I had to be re-interviewed and, due to the pressure, I decided I was going to pull out. This headteacher approached me at lunch time and told me to follow him. I believed we were going to his office but he led me to his car. He then drove us to a remote pub, bought me a drink (non alcoholic) and said that I had earnt the right to gain the promotion and that I just had to hold my nerve. When I look back this was a real turning point in my career because I believe that if I had shunned taking the first steps into leadership there I’m not sure that I would ever have made the move. What he did for me was a real act of leadership and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I like to think of him as ‘The Wisdom’ because he always offered direct, yet sound career advice.
In the fourth school I worked at (I was deputy) I was fortunate to work with a headteacher who was happy to show me the ropes of headship and hand me an awful lot of responsibility. I like to think of him as ‘The Guide’ because, although we were polar opposites, we worked closely and he was happy to give me opportunities to develop and progress quickly. He ultimately taught me the power of distributed leadership.
The final person to have a significant impact upon my development as a leader was the headteacher of the school where I did my NPQH placement. I like to think of him as ‘The Trust’ because it was whilst on my placement that he made it clear to me that I was ready to be a headteacher. It is one thing thinking you are ready but another having it verified by another leader. It gave me the confidence to start applying for headships. This headteacher is the most complete leader I have come across. He has been a head in three different schools, worked for a global company and is now an executive head of four schools. He is an incredible leader with an aura and presence that makes all in his company feel at ease and empowered. He really demonstrates headship at a moral level because he believes a key function of his job is to develop future leaders and he gives up a lot of personal time in ensuring this happens. I aspire to be a leader as effective as him and with as strong a moral compass.
Undoubtedly there will be highly effective leaders out there who have only worked under one previous headteacher and, like I said before, there is no right and wrong approach – it’s what works for you. My advice, however, is that if you want to go on to become a headteacher or leader then the more experience you get of different styles the better because it is ultimately our past experiences that define us as the leaders we go on to become. If you would like to read about different leadership styles in-depth then click here.