I: Head

tree-brain

The Big Bang

I doubt there are many Heads who don’t consider themselves to be top of the tree. That’s why we took on the job, right? We had the belief that we were the best person to oversee the running of an entire school. I bet most of us got that inkling when we first walked around the building before we even applied for the job; we just knew that something was right here and that this school was a perfect fit. Sure, others might be able to do a perfectly reasonable job, but, when we received the call from the Chair of Governors saying we’d got the headship, we knew that it was because they had seen what we knew: no one was going to do the job better than us.

Few of us (I hope) have the ego that makes us believe we would be the best in any school. No way! But I bet most of us believe that we were the only choice for our school. I know I did. I felt an immediate affinity with my school, as if somehow, I knew it better than anyone else. I could see through it and I understood what was holding it back. I could see its potential. I believed that only I could unlock its strengths. I knew we belonged together.

I know one day I won’t feel that. One day it’ll dawn on me that I can no longer see the school for what it is. I will be blind. I may care more about preserving its name and covering up its secrets rather than constantly exposing its faults to make it stronger. When that day comes, the school will need someone else at the helm. I will require replacing. I will need to look for a new school that needs me.

Superhead

So, you’re the Head of the school. You have all the plans and all the ideas. You have the capacity to inspire, uniting your community in striving to achieve the ambitions you have for the school. You are respected and people warm to your leadership.

That’s great. But that will only get you so far.

I thought my leadership was pretty darn great in my first year. A friend of mine regularly reminds me that I once judged my leadership to be a solid nine out of ten. This causes him no end of amusement especially when I am in the middle of some crisis. However, I stand by the fact that in my first year I was great! I think it’s easier to be good in your first year of headship at a new school. Your role, in that first year, is simpler. Have a plan, convince everyone that you know what you’re doing and end the year with most people on your side. Yes, you are building teams but you’re building your teams. You work tirelessly, often independently, but hopefully not in isolation.  I worked with some fantastic people in my first year and they helped me no end but for most of the time it was ‘my show’.

The point of your first year however is to end it with it no longer being just ‘your show’. And then of course, being a Head becomes much harder.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Since my first year I don’t think I’ve reached the dizzying heights of a ‘nine out of ten’ ever again. The job is so much harder. Headship, post year one, is not a job that can be done alone. Partly because the more you do it the more you become aware of the role’s complexities; partly because situations arise that really test you; partly because the job itself evolves. What becomes clearer though, the more you do it, is how much you need strong people around you. I am lucky that I have a very close senior leadership team. Between us, we know what the rest of us are like. We know our strengths, weaknesses and our characters. For me, them knowing what I am like, is invaluable.

I know what I’m like. Therefore, I know what I will shy away from; what I will find uncomfortable; what I would rather not do. Sometimes this helps. I don’t, for example, like confrontation. Therefore, I try to minimise the need for confrontation through my leadership style. This works, most of the time. When it doesn’t, I am blessed to have a leadership team who will challenge me to go out of my comfort zone. They will recognise the signs that I am avoiding something and push me to get it sorted. Occasionally they misunderstand my perceived avoidance; they cannot see that it is a masterful strategic action that is several steps ahead of the game that they are, as yet, unaware of…sometimes they are bang on the money.

I am eternally grateful for this challenge and the way in which the people around me challenge me to see things from different perspectives. I trust them because I value their integrity and their motives: they want to work in the best school possible. They are able to challenge me because they know I want that too.

There are still times when I excel as a leader. There are plenty of other times when those in my orbit outshine me. Often, when I lead well, it is because I know that it is expected of me, or, because other leaders have prompted me to do so. Either way, who cares, so long as it enables the school to move forward?

I doubt there are many Heads who don’t consider themselves to be top of the tree. But I bet most of them will acknowledge that one of the perks of being in that tree is knowing that they are in good company.

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