What Makes An Effective Senior Leader?
By Lindsey Galbraith
I have encountered many challenges since my leadership role has overtaken my teaching role, struggling to accept criticism and taking on too much. I did not anticipate the personal reflection needed as a leader to ensure that I could lead effectively. In this article, I hope to share some key takeaways from my own experiences and research to help others consider how to ensure effective team leadership.
Senior Leaders form the core of school culture and standards, whilst often managing different responsibilities and often teaching. Leaders often get negative press amongst those that they lead, and this is often because mistakes are made about our purpose in the organisation. Effective senior leaders must commit to continuous personal development, alongside improvements to their professional knowledge.
Communicating your vision
How can people follow if they don’t know where they are going?
Ultimately, a Senior Leader’s role is to set the tone and to lead their organisation to reach goals. But, if those you are leading do not know what the goal is, how do they know what I needed of them? If we want engagement, empowerment and ownership from those that we need, we must take everyone on the journey with us.
This means that we must regularly communicate and reinforce what we want to achieve. In schools, we have priorities and short term goals, but do we think enough about long term vision? In my opinion, we don’t and if we do, I don’t we make this clear. We must always return to the long term goal and think more strategically about actions we take to lead the organisation towards the end point.
You are not supposed to know everything
When I became a senior leader, I assumed I needed to have all the answers. Everyone was looking to me to solve problems and provide the answers. I spent my first year working myself to the bone, reading, listening and swotting up on all things I line managed. In honesty, I burnt myself out and I became pretty useless to anyone.
What I have learnt through my own studies and experience is that you are not supposed to know all the answers. Instead, a leader facilitates problem solving. A leaders helps those that they lead to find the answers and works collaboratively to solve problems.
We must accept that often, those that we lead will have more knowledge, confidence and experience in some areas and therefore we need to empower those people and work with them to drive this knowledge towards the overall vision and priorities.
As the face of an organisation, those in senior leadership roles have a responsibility to model behaviours that they want from those that they lead. In teaching, we often talk about being role models for students and ensuring that we model behaviours that we want our students to exhibit but the same can be said amongst adults. If we want commitment, passion, and engagement, we must also explicitly model these behaviours.
In my experience as a teacher, one thing that would really demotivate me would be when someone in leadership would tell us to do something and then not do it themselves. How can we expect others to do something if we don’t? Leaders must be professional but also human, empathetic, and transparent. We want teachers to be warm, caring, compassionate and kind therefore, we must model these virtues.
If we are not expected to always be the expert, we must accept that others may be more skilled and more knowledgeable in areas of our responsibility. Therefore, collaboration is vital. We must work with others, regardless of position in schools and organisations to achieve our goals. In that, we must recognise and value the contributions of others. Through acknowledgement, trust and reward those that we lead are empowered to engage, commit and drive towards the vision.
My most successful projects have been when I have worked with others to launch projects and initiatives but then I have trusted others to take the lead and drive the projects forward. Huge gestures are often not needed or wanted by others. In fact, quiet praise, extended trust and responsibilities are often the greatest reward for others.
During my first year as a senior leader, I made many mistakes, but my biggest mistake was trying to manage too many projects all at once. At times, we must step back, examine the bigger picture, and carefully plan to execute projects well. In my own experience, when I have tried to manage too many things at once, often they have either failed or taken so much time and effort to get over the line. We may have so many ideas running through our heads (mine are usually when I am in the shower!) but we must be mindful that the more we take on, the less we give to each project.
Often our drive and passion can takeover, I know mine does. I get a great idea and immediately run with it. However, this impacts my work-life balance and the time I put into my teaching. Thus, return to your vision. Be clear on what you want to achieve and consider – Why now? What impact? Who will benefit?
We lead an organisation. As leaders, our role is to meet the goals and ambitions of the organisation. In schools, we serve those we lead including, teachers, support staff, students, parents, and many others in the community. We have a duty to listen to and respond to our own areas of improvement. As humans, we are often not very good at taking feedback. I personally struggle with positive and negative feedback. But as a leader, I have had to learn that all feedback helps me to grow.
We want teachers to listen and act upon feedback to improve, we want students to listen and act upon feedback to improve, so we must also listen and act upon feedback to improve. We must change the perspective on feedback we are given as leaders.
We are all learn, no one is the finished article and often how we view ourselves is not necessarily how we are viewed by others. So, if we care enough about the people we lead and the organisations we manage, we must listen to those that we impact.
You can read other articles by Lindsay Galbraith here.