Over the last year or so I have become increasingly convinced that leadership habits make a significant difference to the effectiveness of school leaders and their impact on pupil outcomes. Every day I visit schools where I have privilege to reflect on what these leaders are up to on a routine basis. This short blog, whilst being influenced by research and evidence, is more of a personal view of what seems to me to represent the habits demonstrated by the most successful leaders at all levels within our school system.
Great leaders create clarity
Your staff team will be more motivated if they know what is expected of them and you give them the chance to get good at stuff. There is nothing worse for staff than not being clear about ‘the way we do things around here’ or if things are always changing. Are you clear about those things that you expect to be done uniformly and where there is scope to work more flexibly within a set of guiding principles? Do you take every opportunity to reinforce clarity and check for understanding? It’s the first step in creating consistent outcomes for pupils.
More on the giraffe concept in relation to clarity here.
Great leaders expect quality
Selling and modelling an inspiring vision for the future is a powerful motivator for staff. If you have the habit of taking every opportunity to reinforce this vision through your everyday conversations, you will know the powerful effect this can have, especially if you are always on the lookout to celebrate and highlight when colleagues are demonstrating what these expectations look like. How well do you reinforce the highest expectations of yourself and everyone else in every conversation you have?
Great leaders plan ahead
Stepping off the dance-floor and taking a look from the balcony is a vital habit for any leader. Seeing this bigger picture enables leaders to take a longer-term view to planning and strategy. It also means you can create a strong, more stable culture because implementation is properly thought through and not rushed. There is nothing staff hate more (and therefore buy into less), than a last-minute and rushed new idea. Finally, good planning ahead forces decent prioritisation. Which with workloads as they are, has to be a good thing.
More on planning for change here.
Great leaders enable others
Leading is all about bringing out the best in others, helping them to lead with you on your journey together. This involves building trust, capacity and confidence in others. It also involves developing the habit of letting go. Some leaders find this habit harder to develop than others! The knowledge that you can quite often do something faster and better than a busy colleague is often a barrier to giving others opportunities. How good are you at empowering your staff, not only at delegating actual projects but also the decisions on how to go about doing them?
More on adapting your leadership style here.
Great leaders keep it positive
Whatever you might be feeling inside, keeping a focus on the positive can make a real difference to how staff are feeling, however hard this may sometimes be. Great leaders have the habit of focusing on how far you have come and the positive future you are headed to, creating a more can-do culture and a more optimistic climate. Focusing on the problems you currently face does exactly the opposite. That’s not to say these leaders ignore the challenges. It just means they acknowledge them and then focus on what’s to be done and the benefit of doing it.
More on the power of culture and climate here.
Great leaders ask first
The one leadership habit that I think underpins pretty much everything great leaders do is ‘asking first’. If you want to understand your self and your context better, you need to ask questions of yourself, others and your context. You need to interrogate or ask questions of the data you have at your disposal. Only by doing this are you in a position to identify what you need to make your priorities for actions. And only then can you decide on how you will implement these priorities: your leadership approach. The everyday habit is about asking questions at the start of most conversations, rather than straightaway giving advice or taking on a job yourself.
More on asking first here.
Much of the thinking in this blog is explained in my book Leadership Matters, published by John Catt, and available here.