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What Type of Leader Will You Be?

As ever, Penny is open and honest about her teaching journey.

In this blog, she shares her leadership style, what she’s learnt about others and what she’s learnt about herself.

Penny Leader

When I first took on the role of Assistant Headteacher, I was extremely excited, but also nervous. I would be working with other members of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) that had been in their roles for years, knew each other well and were just brilliant. I knew I had a lot to learn, but what I didn’t realise was that I had a lot to learn about myself first. 

I had a lot of preconceived ideas about the ‘type’ of leader I wanted to be. Strong but caring, efficient, capable, able to do everything and do it well! That was the ideal and I did the NPQML and NPQSL (both of which are brilliant courses!) with high hopes that they would equip me for this role. I learnt a lot that has really helped me and I would highly recommend them to anyone wanting to move into leadership. They showed me how to lead projects with a whole school focus and impact, which was invaluable and helped me to see that I had good communication skills and that I wasn’t very good at using data (something I’ve worked hard on since). However, it still took me several years in the role to actually learn more about my own leadership style. Here I change from ‘type’ to ‘style’ as, following an interesting discussion on a Sunday evening with colleagues on the thread of @NewToSLTChat on Twitter, I realised that the two terms need to be differentiated from each other. There might be ‘types’ of leaders who approach things in certain ways sometimes or show the same traits in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean that’s always how they act or respond. They have their own ‘style’, way of doing things, and this is what I began to learn. I realised that the leadership team I was part of all had amazing and different qualities, different strengths in different areas, and I still learn a lot every day by working with them, observing what they do and listening carefully. 

What I’ve learnt (so far) about my own leadership ‘style’:

1. Slow down

One of the things that our Head has taught me is to slow down. Consider things from different angles and try to not be too impulsive when making decisions. It’s better to be proactive rather than reactive and the effect will be longer lived if you try to think about the consequences before you act. And, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’.

2. Think about the implications and consequences

I pride myself now on being able to think about the implications for everything we do. Who will a decision impact? Who needs to know about the decision we are making? How will it impact workload? Even so, I still get it wrong and miss things, and it’s important to recognise that you’re not perfect and for people to see you as a real person who can accept mistakes and apologise when they are wrong. 

3. Communicate

Communication is probably one of the most important factors in a school environment, yet it can easily be the thing that goes wrong or is missing. I try to think about how we can be transparent with staff, make sure their voices are heard and that everyone is aware of what is happening, when and why. I still miss things of course, everyone does, but it’s important to me that people can tell me if I’ve missed something so that I can make sure I don’t next time. Communication is key. 

4. Be calm

I’ve become quite good at appearing calm on the surface, even when I’m desperately struggling or panicking underneath. Panicking doesn’t help me to solve anything, but it does still take hold when I’ve got a lot of work on or I’m feeling inadequate. I usually have a bit of a meltdown at least once every half term (as my colleagues can attest to), but then I can usually manage to get things back under control and put them in perspective again. Note the word ‘usually’! Sometimes we all need someone else to co-regulate with us and bring us back down to earth. 

5. Show you care

Staff need to know that you care about them, that they are valued and they are heard. Show them that you are prepared to invest in them and develop them.  It’s an easy one to do if you work as a team to listen to and help people. 

6. Play to your strengths

I’ve already mentioned that data is not my strong point, but there are other things I can do well, so I try to make use of them to benefit the team and pick up the slack when others need a hand. It’s so important to really know yourself and your capabilities. 

7. Self improvement is vital

Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, it’s our responsibility to try and turn those weaknesses into strengths if we can. As one of my good friends says, ‘I’m working on it!’

8. Teamwork!

Work out who you really are as a person, your identity, your strengths, then work out where you fit as part of the team and try to work together. It’s the Senior Leadership TEAM. No person is an island. Nor should they have to be. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to me at least, there doesn’t appear to be a specific ‘type’ or even ‘types’ of leaders, but you learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. You learn to work as part of a team and to play to your strengths, and you learn to adapt your ‘style’ or your ‘approach’ depending on the person or the situation you are dealing with. Our SLT is amazing to be a part of, and I think I’ve found where I fit into it now, where I can use my strengths to benefit the whole and where I can also learn from others. We’re always learning and trying to improve, and the idea of a team is to support each other. Make sure you are in a team that does that and shows you just how valuable you really are.

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The author

Penny Whelan is a Primary Assistant Headteacher and SENCO. She has a Psychology degree and a PGCE. Penny works part-time and is also EAL coordinator, an SLE, Coach and the Operations Manager for the Schools Linking Network in her Local Authority. She is passionate about SEND, inclusion, community and diversity.

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