The mistakes I made so you can avoid them.
Not unlike a pimply pre-teen who is just hitting puberty, middle leadership just kinda happened to me. I hadn’t wanted it, nor planned for it so I most certainly was not ready for it! My team leader at the time did an overnight disappearing act - she legit disappeared off the face of the earth (don’t worry though, she’s ok). Next thing I knew, I was called into the principal's office where there was some crisis planning going on. What ensued next was the good ol’ line of; “boy do I have an opportunity for you…” (I use this line regularly to hype up jobs that no one really wants to do and it works a treat). And that’s how it all happened, I found myself in the role of acting team leader until the school were able to find a more permanent solution. Clearly I had only been considered for the role because I’d simply been there the longest which I have since found out is the most common reason that people are promoted internally. To say that I was underprepared was the biggest understatement since one of the survivors on the Titanic describes the sinking of the ship as “a rather serious evening”.
What ensued over the next few months, was a laughable stream of leadership related catastrophes while I went about figuring out what the hell I was supposed to be doing. Don’t worry though, this all has a happy ending because I did go on to have an extremely successful career as a teacher and leader which has brought me to where I am today - an educational consultant willing to share their mistakes with the masses so I can help people from repeating them over and over again.
Managing and leading are NOT the same thing.
You know that old saying: If you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself. Yeah, Ignore that completely or you’ve got yourself a one way ticket to Mental-Breakdown-Town. Leadership isn’t about doing all of the work, it’s about creating an environment where the work can be done. You’ve got to focus on the people long before you focus on the ‘stuff’.
When you tell people how to suck eggs, the only one who ends up sucking IS YOU!
In other words, your team needs to know what to do, not told how to do it.
There’s this weird thing that often happens with first time leaders, they think to themselves; yippee! I’m so good at teaching maths that I’ve been put in charge of the maths team. I’d better get busy making sure they do everything the same way that I do it so they can be equally as awesome as me.
Stop this - stop it right now!
I’m sure that you are super amazing and that your friends and family think that you’re God’s gift to the teaching profession but the world doesn’t actually need little cookie cutter versions of you. We encourage kids to learn in a way that suits them best, the least we can do for our colleagues is extend the same courtesy and create an environment where they can teach in a way that works best for them.
Everyone wants to be successful - EVERYONE!
There is not a teacher on the planet who turns up to school to do a crappy job and they are most definitely not there just for the money. It’s our number one job as leaders to create an environment where everyone can be successful in their own way. Again, we’re awesome at doing this for kids, let’s do the same for our colleagues. Know their goals, support their plans and celebrate their professional journey along the way.
You’re not a firefighter
Another weird thing that can happen when you first get into leadership is people freak out and think that they need to run everything past you. Look out for questions that go anything like this:
- Is it o.k with you if I … ?
- Can you tell me when I can … ?
- How do you want me to do … ?
- Can you fix … ?
If you respond to questions like this with quick and easy responses that put out little fires, you achieve one thing - people will become dependent on you very quickly.
A leader should be asking way more questions than they answer. Remember, this is about creating an environment where everyone can be successful in their own way. As a leader you need to ask questions that create a shared understanding around processes and expectations which brings me to my next point:
Most meetings suck
There is a real skill in leading a productive and valuable meeting that doesn’t make your team want to stab themselves in the ears. Pay attention because this is a biggie; team meetings shouldn’t be about telling anyone anything, they should be about collaborative brainstorming, problem solving and action planning. If you’ve got something to tell people, write an email. If you want to discuss something where everyone's input is welcome then have a meeting.
You can’t do it alone - in fact, it’s bloody dangerous to think that you can
While you’re in there supporting everyone in your team to do awesome things, who's got your back and helping you to learn and grow? Let’s face it, you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s o.k, none of us really do.
This is why you need to get yourself hooked up with a coach. It may be a colleague, a friend or an outside middle leadership specialist like me #ShamelessPlug. Having a coach gives you someone to bounce ideas off, someone to vent to and help you to move forward when things aren’t going so great, and of course, someone to help you achieve your own lofty professional goals. The fantastic news is that the Education Council has already encouraged your BOT’s and Principals to provide this support for every new, existing and aspiring leader in schools and ECE centers in New Zealand in their Leadership Strategy - make sure you get a piece of that coaching action!
Keep on growing
Read, read, read!
It just blows my mind that for about $30 you can get a leadership guru’s life work in the palm of your hand. Even better, you can go to the library and get hold of more leadership books than you can shake a stick at. Don’t limit yourself to reading books specific to educational leadership - there’s so much to learn from leaders in the business world like Simon Sinek and Dr Brene Brown.
Hold on to your values
Remember why you first got into teaching and your fundamental beliefs about what kids deserve from their time in your school. Advocate fiercely for the things that you believe in. As a leader in your school you’ve got a significant opportunity to use your voice - make sure you do because it is no fun at all to be leading your team towards a change that you don’t believe in.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Despite what my Mum says, I’m not actually good at everything. When it comes to leadership I was incredible at the people and relational stuff, not so much with the systems and admin stuff. While you are creating a space where everyone can be successful, make sure you consider yourself in there too. Create opportunities to amplify your strengths and make plans to compensate for your weaknesses. This is truly where delegation and collaboration become your best friends.
God-Speed little grasshopper. Go forth armed with these tips and become the best leader you can be.