If you are moving into a new leadership role this autumn – whether this is an internal or an external promotion, or whether you are stepping into middle leadership, senior leadership or headship – you will no doubt have spent some of your summer break reflecting on what this will mean and how you can best prepare yourself. Although, in my experience, new roles always bring with them a measure of unanticipated challenge, nevertheless there are ways in which you can prepare, psychologically and practically, for what lies ahead.
So what are my top five tips?
1. Focus on building relationships with the team
Leadership is, in my view, all about getting the best from those you lead. So, whatever the scale – leading a small, clearly defined domain, leading a whole-school initiative or, as a head, having responsibility for all aspects of the school – successful leadership hinges on building the most positive and mutually respectful relationships with all members of your team. If you are internally promoted, you will already have established relationships. Some of these will inevitably be more positive than others, so recognise that some will need more work. Be aware, too, that the dynamic in the relationship is likely to change in the light of your increased responsibility, and this is something that you will need to navigate sensitively and constructively. If you are externally promoted, think about how you can accelerate your learning, get to know those you lead quickly and well, and build trust.
2. Check that your communications channels are working
Give some thought to communication, and how you can ensure that this is as effective as possible. You will have your own views about this, but consulting with your team about the different channels of communication, how they currently work and how they can perhaps be further improved, may be a useful start. Listen carefully, even if (especially if) some of the comments are not what you want to hear. Act on what you learn so that people recognise you ARE listening, and that their opinion is valued.
3. Identify the strengths of your team
Consider how you can build on success, making the most of the strengths of the team you inherit. Do you have a clear understanding of what is already going well, and how that can be further developed? If not, what questions do you need to ask so that you have a secure grasp, and full appreciation, of the team or school’s qualities and achievements? Making a list of questions you will pose, rather than of actions you will take, might be wise.
4. Resist being critical of what has gone before
Every new leader inherits a legacy from their predecessor, and you need to treat this legacy with sensitivity and respect, even as you formulate your ideas about what might need to change over time and how you will put your own stamp on the role and the work of the team. Avoid the temptation to be retrospectively critical. Those you lead may still be emotionally invested in the previous regime. Upsetting and alienating professionals on whom you will rely to realise the vision would be short-sighted and counterproductive.
5. Remember it’s not just about your vision
And remember that this will be a shared vision rather than a vision you import. You will drive the discussion, make a positive contribution to it and ensure the team’s vision and values are clearly articulated, understood, communicated and ‘lived’ in its day to day practices, but you need the buy-in of others if this is to move beyond rhetoric to become the reality of how the team operates.
So give thought to these areas, and consider how they relate to your context:
- What groundwork can you do?
- What framework do you need to establish for the start of term so that you make a thoughtful, confident beginning to your time in this new role?
- What are you building on and how can you do so constructively and effectively, so that those you lead can see you are going to have a positive impact on the work of the team and to leave it (at some point in the future) stronger than you found it?
Leadership is a weighty responsibility, and it is also a privilege. It can be rewarding and even joyful. Make the most of the opportunity, enjoy the journey – and good luck!
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.