"Change is the only constant" Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher
This is most definitely a time of change, on many levels, for the majority of people across the world. Very few landscapes have not been affected, or had enforced change, by the restrictions and implications of the coronavirus. Personally, my consultancy of working face-to-face is fast-changing as I adopt Zoom calls, online workshop creation and live webinars. Don’t get me wrong, I love being challenged professionally and finding the flex and skills to learn new approaches, up-skill my technical knowledge and adapt my style of presenting, has been really exciting and created a new sense of purpose and drive for me.
I am acutely aware how change can cause undue stress and worry and changes that are entirely at the mercy of something out of your control, incur an even greater degree of concern. Having strategies and techniques to call on at times like these is imperative. Here are some that I have drawn on over the years (and now) to help get me through challenging times.
When I first became a Head, I had ten years of experience in education. I had learned a great deal in that relatively short time on aspects such as; teaching and learning, creating a vision and plan for the departments I ran, understanding children and their needs, working with parents, but less so about people leadership. I think this is why, that now as an Education Consultant, my enthusiasm and work is primarily focussed on developing people, particularly middle and senior leaders and new Heads, in understanding themselves, others and teams.
I had some great mentors on my journey to leadership and those that were not so great – we learn from both! However, when I became the leader, I believed that it was important to have a vision, articulate it, translate it and then fulfil it without deviating along the way, despite the challenges. As you can imagine this often led to disappointments, feelings of failure and slow progress. I naively believed, at the time, that to be the leader, you needed to have all the answers and if you didn’t, at least to look as though you did! And that showing any kind of flexibility was an admittance of weakness, or an undermining of your leadership ability.
Ironically, the less flexible you are the more likely you are to tie yourself in knots!
Fortunately, with the desire of becoming a better leader, I took the opportunity to work with a leadership coach. This was revolutionary for me and I would urge everyone in a leadership capacity, to afford themselves this luxury. I knew I had strengths as a leader and I knew I had weaknesses, but I wasn’t always able to articulate them, or indeed know how to acknowledge them and work with them for improvement.
My inability to accept the need to be flexible, once a decision was made, was clearly detrimental for those that I was leading. It was through self-reflection activities and through taking a deep breath and affording a small degree of flex in some scenarios, that led me to begin to trust that having a little ‘stretch’ in the journey would still lead to successful outcomes. I could see that flexibility was an enabler for success, not a barrier to it. In fact, I would say that a leader can only be effective if they have the agility and ability to change their plans as circumstances change.
Under the current climate there is an absolute need to be a flexible leader. We are in a time of rapid change and uncertainty and it calls upon a flexible leader to plot a path across these turbulent seas and continuously re-calculate in order to navigate the unknowns.
So in the context of leadership, my answer to the question ‘Is flexibility important?’ would be a resounding ‘Yes”.
I now need to work on this approach as a mum and wife!
However, purpose doesn’t just land at your feet, it is something that you strive for and seek out. I am proud that through all the adversities in my life, I have always had the resilience and ‘get up and go’, to re-connect with my purpose, or massage it into a new form. And now, is one of those times.
I am finding this time of quiet in the work calendar, filled with a whole new landscape of opportunities and purpose. I have made many new connections; had empowering and engaging conversations with like-minded people who share the same beliefs; taken the opportunity to work on my own professional development; put myself out of my comfort zone in several areas and re-connected with another purpose of mine - my family.
As a wife and mother of two, this reflection time has enabled me to re-balance and take stock of what’s important in life. Personal and professional growth have always been a priority of mine. I love to grow and thrive on challenge which is why I probably found myself as a Head after just ten years. But roll-on another fourteen years having encompassed breaking my leg (the day before a school inspection!) getting married, having two children, losing a child, running two schools, moving to the country, leaving a role I loved (another story!) and starting my own consultancy, I now find my purpose as a mother, at this time, really coming to the fore. That instinctive drive to protect and nurture in times of uncertainty and confusion has fully kicked in. During this period I am finding the desire to provide the routine, the food, the support and love, the security and the fun as my new priority, appropriately balancing it with my work priorities - something, on honest reflection, I don’t think was there before.
Taking time to really look inwardly and honestly has been invaluable for me on a number of levels. Apart from ensuring my family-time remains a priority, my work landscape is being refined too. I now have a clearer vision of my purpose on this platform too and after this period of enforced lockdown, I will reappear invigorated and empowered by my new purpose!
Motivation is a vital and largely underestimated knowledge area for schools, but when it exists, it can have profound benefits for the school and its learners. As a leader, being able to motivate your employees is an essential skill that needs to be explored and employed.
I often think back to my time as a pupil in school and think more specifically about the areas I excelled in. Most notably these were the areas that I was keen to do well in – I was motivated to do my best. And why was I motivated? In some cases it was because I enjoyed the subject and wanted to learn more, or I was pretty good at it so enjoyed the accolade, or because the teacher inspired and motivated me and I wanted them to be proud of my efforts. Looking at these reasons more closely unfolds that motivation stems from the desire to learn, from achievement, or from relationships.
Since entering the world of work and developing as a teacher, I continued to be motivated to be my very best. I was keen to grow and learn and took advantage of every opportunity – from my NQT year, coordinating PE and becoming a numeracy trainer (at its launch in 1997), through to gaining my first Headship after only ten years in the profession.
I quickly learnt that in my work environment, I was primarily motivated by growth - to realise my full potential and be all that I could be. This is not to say that I was not motivated by achievement or relationships, but that my work motivations were underpinned by a growth motivator bias.
The power of motivation, however, is that it is not a fixed state. Motivation is very much influenced by situation and mood. This is why understanding what motivates staff, at any given point in their career, is important in ensuring that they are performing to their very best. It is also worth noting, that as motivation is greatly influenced by situation and state of mind, an employee’s motivation can be greatly affected by personal circumstances too, therefore, motivation needs to be revisited on a regular basis.
The benefits for a school having a motivated workforce include:
In the words of Richard Branson “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business.” And taking care of your staff means knowing what they really want and will work hard for.