Leadership programme

Rethinking leadership – what I wish I had known!

Jan Shadick


Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

My first headship, in 2004, was at a school languishing at the bottom of the national league tables. Deemed a ‘failing’ school, and part of the then Fresh Start Initiative, it closed at the end of one academic year, reopening the next: with new staff and a slightly different name. Whilst I knew it would be a challenge, I felt the ‘fire in my belly’ from the moment I visited.

In taking this step I had no idea I was embarking on a journey of self-discovery; a journey still underway, and littered with moments of triumph, disaster, heart break and celebration. I was boarding an emotional rollercoaster, completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

Unleashing the Power of Leadership Behaviors: The Key to School Success

When I took up post, my instincts, not a ‘competency-based framework’, guided and informed my leadership. Having completed my Masters, been awarded the NPQH, and been part of the then DFE Trainee Headship programme, I knew that the classroom was key to improving standards, and I knew that I and my senior team would be an important part of our success. But I had not fully understood what I now consider to be critical: that my leadership behaviours would matter most, particularly when emotions were high. None of the leadership development programmes I had engaged with had addressed this.

The reason why my leadership behaviours mattered, is very clear to me now. Rethinking Leadership is primarily about people. It is not about project management. Not about budget. Nor about spreadsheets. Leaders who forget this, do so at their peril. Great leaders influence people and build relationships, as they focus on their moral purpose. They know that it is this which supports the success of pupils. They adjust to an ever-changing context. In short, their behaviours drive the organisational culture which will either help or hinder the school’s progress.

Photographer: Rodion Kutsaiev | Source: Unsplash

I encountered two ‘light bulb moments’ within my first few years of headship. Both were opportunities for pause and reflection, and both were connected to books I was reading at the time. These were Daniel Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and Steven Radcliffe’s ‘Leadership Plain and Simple’. I realised that the instinct I had been relying on was my emotional intelligence in action and that I was unconsciously adopting Radcliffe’s FED model. Creating a picture in my mind of the future I wanted, and I cared deeply about it. I worked hard to engage others in bringing this to life and together we were determined to deliver. In reading and reflecting, I began to understand why I cared so deeply about rethinking leadership, and that this was both my super-power and my Achilles heel. This passion was driving my behaviour as a leader – for good and for bad.

I wish I had known sooner how important this understanding would be in helping me to navigate the emotional roller coaster I was on.

Unleashing the Power of Self-Awareness: The Missing Piece in Leadership Development

Leadership development has come a long way since these early days of headship, but I am not convinced that it yet addresses this area sufficiently to effectively support leaders as they take their first and subsequent steps. Many remain oblivious and / or unprepared for the emotional challenges they will face; the likely impact these will have on their behaviours; and the reason why it matters. NPQs now provide a more coherent knowledge and competency-based framework for leadership, but they still pay less attention to this important area. There is still a focus on skill areas such as finance, HR and data. Leaders fail, not because they can’t manage a budget, or analyse a spreadsheet. They can compensate for ‘gaps’ in their experience relatively easily. Leaders fail because their behaviour has repeatedly undermined their words. This has no compensation.

This is important because our behaviour is directly under our control. It influences and builds those all-important relationships. We can therefore learn to be better leaders by truly understanding who we are, what drives us and how we are likely to react, particularly in times of stress. By understanding those behaviour which come naturally to us, alongside those required of a situation, we can select the right behaviour for maximum impact.

Powerful self-knowledge, therefore, should be an integral strand of any leadership development programme. By being supported to truly understand ourselves, we can learn to become better leaders.

In our Trust we take this approach seriously, using it as the basis for our accelerated leadership programme and for supporting leaders on their journey. We have access to a coherent leadership curriculum, carefully designed to take participants on this journey of self-discovery and reflection.

Like many we use a 360 survey. But we have chosen one focused on core leadership behaviours we know make a difference. This supports participants to see inside their blind room as described by Johari and provides an excellent basis for executive coaching.

Activities centred on experiential learning and motivation, take our understanding further. Knowing your likely reaction to the experiences you face, particularly under stress and when tired, empowers you to consciously manage your behaviour and truly understand why you are feeling as you are.

Connecting this understanding to models of team development, alongside key leadership styles and climate dimensions, further supports our leaders in developing their awareness; giving them a contextual framework in which to operate. The unintended consequence is that this supports their well-being. They are no longer forced to react instinctively and in isolation to the emotions they feel but have a shared understanding of what is happening and why, taking conscious decisions to manage their behaviours and how they feel.

There is no template for what a great leader looks like. There are, however, behaviours we know work and those that generally don’t. Leaders who understand this and the need to adjust their behaviours to suit context, have a greater chance of success. Today, as we battle a perfect storm of challenges, the emotional rollercoaster is gathering momentum. A focus on this is critical. Our leaders need resilience, emotional control and an ability to build important relationships. They can only do this if they truly understand themselves.

I still face the twists and turns of my emotional roller coaster, but I am better prepared and far more in control. Experience helps but knowing myself provides the greatest clarity.

Jan Shadick, CEO Haberdashers Academies Trust South

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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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