The Influence of Others

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.

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 attitude to leadership. I know some staff loved working for him but personally I felt that he offered to school no leadership or direction. I found this 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.

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 prom top and made a real mess of it. 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.

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.

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 play 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 not an executive head of four schools. He is an incredible leader with an aura and presence. I aspire to be a leader as effective as him.

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.

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How to Create a Vision

One area that causes new and aspiring leaders looking to make the move into Assistant Headship, Deputy Headship and Headship the most challenge and angst is that of vision. I’m often asked by these aspiring leaders the following questions:

  • How do I know what my vision is?
  • What actually is a vision?
  • How do I develop a vision?
  • How do I articulate my vision?

Vision is one of those things that is difficult to quantify and hard to put your finger on – especially if yours isn’t yet clear. In fact, when starting out in pursuit of leadership roles, it can become an almost mythical quest where people get really hung up on not having a vision or knowing what there’s is. I suppose it’s like anything in life, the more pressure you put on yourself to come up with an answer the harder it is to find the solution. To help aspiring leaders develop a vision I have created the following principles.

Developing the vision – THE GOOD

The first part of creating a vision is to think about what you passionately believe in education. Try to come up with some key drivers that you think will help you achieve outstanding outcomes in your school e.g. collaborative learning, promoting independence, building global links etc. Once you have done this the next step is to think of any inspirational schools you have worked in with leaders who have really sold a vision – try to unpick what made you buy into their vision. I first started teaching at a great school in Uppermill, Saddleworth where there was a truly outstanding Headteacher – his vision was so clear and the way he sold it really motivated me. I have spent many hours unpicking what he did and how he did it – once I did this I built elements of this into my own vision.

If you can, and you have an understanding boss, then try and get out and visit other great schools. Whenever I meet a leader who inspires me I always take the time to pick their brains on what they believe in education, how they have achieved it in their school, the barriers they overcame and (not linked necessarily to vision) their career path (I’m always intrigued by how people have got to where they are). The more great things you see in education the clearer your vision will begin to become.

Developing the vision – THE BAD

Without a doubt the most powerful tool for developing my vision was when I spent a year working at a school that tested all of my core beliefs and principles. I had relocated from Uppermill and took the first job I was offered. When I started at the school I quickly realised it wasn’t what I thought and the vision the school had was a million miles from my own. The longer I spent at the school the more I disliked it and everything it stood for – in my opinion (and it is only my opinion) the school was not child centred – it was staff centred. Expectations of the children were low, behaviour dealt with inconsistently and there was little desire from anyone to innovate or change. I HATED it there. At the time is was an incredibly tough year and when I found promotion after one year I was only too glad to leave. What I couldn’t appreciate at the time was that it was the most powerful learning experience I could ever have had and was as useful and possibly even more useful than working under an outstanding Headteacher. You see, you only really start to know what you believe in and your vision for education when you see the complete opposite. When your beliefs are questioned and challenged. When you see poor practice. It all promotes a powerful response and made me think: ‘When I’m a Headteacher I will never do it like that’.  So my advice to you is that if you have ever had the misfortune (or as it will turn out, fortune) to work in a school that tests these principles then harness them and use them towards your vision. My vision and who I am is hugely influenced by that negative experience. If you have never worked at a school that tested out your principles then again my advice is to get out to a range of schools – not just good – and see if there are things in them that help mould your vision.

Developing the vision – THE UGLY

Aspiring and new leaders who lift someone else’s vision and regurgitate are doing themselves no favours. After all, we can all see through a leader who doesn’t have conviction in what they are saying. The easy option when you don’t have a vision is to merely repeat someone else’s but in my experience this is a short term solution. The better option is to look at a range of visions and modfiy them, merge them, add bits and create something you truly believe in. At least this way, when you are challenged on your vision (which you will be at some point), you can speak with passion, belief and conviction for what you feel about education and the direction to move in. Innovating and modifying a vision is different from directly regurgitating one.

The Vision Model

Developing a Vision

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Articulating Your Vision

So, you are at the point where you have created your vision and are feeling more confident about it. The next step is articulating it to staff, parents, peers and governors – this is not always easy and where people fall down is when they over complicate a process. I have seen leaders create a vision that was summarised in one side of A4. To be frank, I switched off after the first paragraph – there was just too much information. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that to get your vision across it needs to be complicated or overtly wordy. My advice to you is to keep it simple and ensure that you live and breathe it. I have often felt that a simple picture or diagram helps – below is my vision for Park Hill and what I used when I applied for the job. I believe it says all it needs to.

 

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

And finally…

Be prepared to fight tooth and nail for your vision. Education needs strong leaders who will stand up for what they believe in. You will have doubters – everyone does but make sure you stick to your principles. After all, the children deserve to be in a school that knows where it’s heading!