Leadership programme

Rethinking Leadership: valuing the ‘being’ rather than solely the ‘doing’

Ellie Garaway

Chief Executive


Rethinking Leadership leaves me feeling energised and motivated on a topic which usually generates my resignation, sadness, and frustration – and that is the ability of our school system to support young people to become thriving adults.

The report calls out, loud and clear, for a new level of thinking about what it takes to lead in the education sector. As leaders, we need to make time for this focus on the thinking, the mind-set required for the role. And that is hard, especially in a culture that is hardwired for action.

This resonates with Grit where we work on being rather than doing. There are plenty of approaches that train people in skills and behaviours but few that create a safe space to explore the limits of our own thinking, spaces to reflect, both individually and collectively.

Our work calls on leaders to dig deep, seek out their own blind-spots. A Director of Children’s Services describes: “noticing and listening so that I hear what is actually being said rather than listening for anything that confirms my own pre-existing views and assumptions enabled me to have powerful breakthroughs in thinking.”

This is the kind of reflective practice that Rethinking Leadership highlights, but how do leaders maintain this ability to be reflective in the day-to-day?

In the face of the latest imperatives, the constant churn of demands, the moods of staff, pupils (and ourselves), leadership from a position of self-awareness/reflection requires a real vision for what’s possible. This notion of ‘possibility’ is one of Grit’s core values: the possibility that although life is informed by the past, it doesn’t have to be governed by it. This belief in possibility, this optimism, is so critical for school leaders right now and I wonder where the mechanisms for leaders to develop and nurture it sit in the report.

Ken Wilber’s model on integral change is one I continually come back to. His stance is that for change to last it has to work at four levels:

‘Rethinking Leadership’ acknowledges that we cannot only focus on skills and systems (the right of the model). Optimism and a vision for the future come through an exploration of mindset and culture (the left of the model), in both leadership and school.

Authentic hope and optimism for a future that looks different to the past, is difficult to arrive at without an opportunity to offload historic burdens, making space for something new. In working with leadership teams we see how, in order to create transformation, there is a level of trauma about their experience, frustration, resignation, even anger, that needs to be processed. As a local authority Executive Director put it, “it's allowed us to envision a different possibility for ourselves and a different possibility for the services that we deliver.”

So those spaces that allow us, as leaders, to process the past are an essential part of being the kind of forward-looking leader the report envisions.

There is a key role for ‘community’ here and this is another of the Grit core values: ‘to build a community that empowers you to accept support and contribute to others’. How can leaders support each other pro-actively to sustain their optimism on this journey? In our experience the willingness to be supported is crucial. We can’t expect others to ask for support if we are not comfortable with it ourselves. So we need to create environments of relational trust and psychological safety (as the report accentuates) for those staff who are ‘rethinking leadership’. These environments must exist not just within a school but across schools, nurturing the ‘new thinking’ we are calling for.

Thank you for ‘Rethinking Leadership’, for valuing the being rather than solely the doing, for balancing the dominant head with the heart and hand.

It leaves me with gratitude but also questions: How do we support leaders to work through the frustrations and challenges they’ve been living with? How do we invest in their vision, their optimism? My hope is that there can be space for a community in which non-judgmental support is given and received for those brave, bold and inspired individuals who take on this journey.

Ellie Garraway, Chief Executive, Grit

Big Education

Leadership Programme

Applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives you the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

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applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives leaders the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

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