Last month I wrote about the process of applying for leadership roles, and how to approach this with confidence. Assuming you are successful at interview, your next challenge is to navigate the months in between the selection process and the time when you formally step into the role. How can you do so in a way that helps you to hit the ground running and to start your tenure in the role as positively as possible, while still honouring your current responsibilities?
This can be quite a challenging time, because you are balancing the demands of your present role with a growing preoccupation with your next step. The job and school you are in at the moment deserve your loyalty – you are, of course, employed there until the point at which you officially leave, and you should want to do the best job possible until that time. However, you may find your thoughts increasingly turning towards the future challenges and opportunities your new post will present.
In some cases, you may be invited into your new school and there may be associated activities which require your time and thought. You need to ensure that you achieve a workable balance so that you do not neglect your current responsibilities, or step on the toes of the leader you are succeeding. In addition, you need to achieve a healthy balance between your personal and professional lives so that you are not worn out before you even start your new role.
If you have been internally promoted, the tension between where you are now professionally and where you will be in the future may be even more acute. You may find staff begin to look to you rather than to the present incumbent, which can be awkward for both of you. You may be working closely with your predecessor and will want to do so harmoniously until the point at which they leave.
What advice would I offer?
- Immediately following success in the appointment process, you will probably feel elated. This is normal and healthy - enjoy it! However, recognise that soon after this reality may hit you. Now you have to prepare to do the job! There may be times when this leads to feelings of self doubt. I would suggest it is not unusual to experience a combination of eager anticipation and acute trepidation.
- You can help negotiate these conflicting emotions by formulating a plan which spans the time between getting the job and the first weeks in your new role. What are your priorities and how can you prepare? What can, and even should, be left until you are officially in post and beginning to develop an assured sense of the context, the team you are leading and specifically what is needed from its new leader?
- If you are going to visit your new school – and you should, in order to begin to know and to be known – when will these visits be (what experiences will offer you the greatest return for the investment of time?) and how will this dovetail into your current school and role so that you avoid clashes and significant conflicts of interest?
- Begin to build relationships with those you will lead, and those who will lead you. Ask thoughtful questions, listen carefully and do plenty of thinking. Do not be pressured into making promises or being too specific about what you think you will do in the new post. Judgements need to be informed, and until you begin the role you may not be in a position to be too definite about choices you will make and decisions you will take.
- Be sensitive to the position of your predecessor – whether this is an internal or external appointment. They may, like you, be experiencing conflicting emotions as they prepare to leave the role. Accord them respect and do not openly criticise them (including once you are in post), whatever your private feelings about how they have fulfilled their responsibilities.
- Consolidate your learning – what elements of your new role will require further development of your skills and how can you work to strengthen your competence in those areas in the lead-in period? Consider, for example, what you can learn from those with relevant expertise in your current school.
So the time in between getting the job and starting the job can provide useful opportunities to learn, and to begin to establish yourself, so that you make the most positive beginning to your tenure. Manage this lead-in period thoughtfully and sensitively, and you will increase your chances of doing so.
Dr Jill Berry is an educational consultant and former independent school head, and is a source of inspiration for aspiring and existing school leaders around the country.