I have chatted to three other headteachers recently about a particular issue concerning leadership that irks me: giving thanks.
Now, forgive me for saying, but I think I’m actually quite a nice boss. I’m fair, honest, open, understanding and (for the most part and when I’m not being hilarious) calm. I have only shouted once in my career as a leader and felt like such an idiot afterwards vowed never to again. I don’t publicly or privately humiliate people and I never confront someone out in the open but if a challenging conversation is needed it is done sensitively in the privacy of a closed office.
I also tend to let people have their way. You want to go home early because your partner has booked a long weekend away for your birthday and he didn’t realise you were a teacher and can’t have time off mid-term? Alright. As long as you can get cover for your class sorted go for it, have a nice time. You’re going to find it difficult to get the Term 3 data in on time because it coincided with your cousin’s birthday and it’s been a busy term. Oh, ok, well as long as it’s done before the end of term that should be fine, I don’t mind spending my holiday reviewing it and I’m not reporting it to governors after half term anyway so yeah, don’t worry. Your reports are not going to be in on time? Well, I suppose I haven’t finished writing all of my comments on everyone else’s yet so if I don’t get yours until Monday that shouldn’t really be a problem, I’ll just rush them off in the morning, no worries.
You see? Quite reasonable. I don’t get cross, I don’t look disappointed. I just very quickly and rationally weigh up the pros and cons and think – if I can accommodate this will it be a real problem? Over the years I have granted such ad-hoc requests to pretty much every member of staff so I feel the balance and order across the school is at a constant equilibrium: there isn’t one particular member of staff who is ‘always’ making such requests (otherwise that would warrant one of those chats in a private office).
I don’t know if I am too lenient or more lenient that other headteachers. All I know is that I don’t like confrontation; as long as stuff does get done pretty much on time everything will be alright; as long as staff are independent and responsible for keeping themselves in the loop the school will carry on successfully; and I’m human. We all need a bit of leniency from time to time don’t we? From the mundane requests to work from home because a fridge is being delivered to the exceptional: going way above and beyond the standard number of days for compassionate leave because, well, it was clear they needed it. I see this as being an effective leader for the people and for the school, after all, look after the one and the other will be taken care of too.
There is also another, slightly more ‘senior leader’ aspect to me being the most gracious and wonderful leader in the history of schooling: I’m a banker. No, that isn’t a typo, I am a banker. I store all these requests that I grant, with a smile and a ‘don’t worry’, in my mental bank of back scratchers. For I know there will come a time when I request something that will require them to go the extra mile or will put them out of their comfort zone and I don’t mind doing that if I can back it up with past favours. This isn’t blackmail; I don’t get my little black book out and say ‘On the 14th May you asked if you could not come into celebration assembly because you wanted to book your travel insurance and I agreed; therefore you will stay here tonight until midnight or until all the children have been set up with individual blogging accounts.’ No, it’s more a case of getting everyone to accept that at times we rely on the kindness of others.
So what is it that irks me? Well it came to my attention recently that there is a perception, from some staff, that I don’t appreciate them and never say thanks or well done. I was genuinely surprised by this. I (honestly) think, that as well as being a very ‘human’ and compassionate headteacher, I actually praise staff all the time. I do so in staff meetings, in newsletters, in person and through the act of supplying them with more buffets a year than your typical wedding planners. And yet, there is still this perception that I don’t thank people. Interestingly, all the other headteachers said the same and commented that ‘no staff ever think management thank them enough.’ I find this simultaneously interesting, worrying and if I’m honest, bloody annoying.
What I find interesting is how far from the mark I have obviously been when it comes to how individuals want to be thanked. Clearly, being nice, accommodating, jolly, smiley, never getting publicly cross, creating a pleasant work environment and thanking people when they deserve it and doing all of this consistently for everyone, isn’t enough. Some people want more and this is also what I find worrying because I don’t know if I could ever satisfy their collective thirst for praise. Actually I can quench a collective thirst, it’s all the individual perceptions of how I should thank people that I’ll never be able to manage. It’s easy for them as all they have to worry about is one person: me. They all know what I want and how I work and my expectations. As for me? I’m expected to know and respond to every single employees personal preferences concerning how they want to be treated. My overall consistency isn’t good enough because it doesn’t tick all of everyone’s boxes. This, then adds to my annoyance. Not because I’m ungrateful or I feel undervalued but for the simple reason that it seems like the deck is not stacked in my favour.
No person in the entire school is as scrutinised and judged as me. Everyone will comment on my behaviour, choice of words, mood, facial expression and condemn me the moment any inconsistency arises and yet I am also expected to accept every single one of their inconsistencies and understand the hidden, personal backstory as to why they have acted or spoken the way they have or else risk being branded as ‘insensitive’. This seems not just unfair (and hey, I know I get paid more and it’s my job so I should just quit moaning) but more importantly it seems impossible. There is also, as one of the headtechers pointed out, the very real fact that we do not get thanked regularly by everyone (yes I know, and I refer you to the previous bracket concerning pay and job description and me getting over it) but shouldn’t staff feel some responsibility for the well-being of their headteacher just a little bit? I however, don’t expect thanks for just doing my job, so how much thanks should teachers expect for just doing theirs?
So I intend to spend the summer holidays reflecting on ways that I can show appreciation in the hope that people will value it. In doing so I have some questions to consider:
• How much may I have to change my perception in what to give thanks for?
• Do I care that some people don’t think I thank enough?
• What difference would a little more acknowledgement make – even for things that I don’t personally feel warrant it?
• To what extent should my staff accept my inconsistencies and quirks?
• What will I do if I change and I thank more but in a year’s time get told that I hardly ever say thank you?