Photo by Markus Spiske
When people are giving their all, when the pressure’s on and they are stretched too thinly, that is when it is very easy to be hurt by others.
And there seems to be a lot of educational leaders feeling that hurt at the moment.
These are good people doing their very best to lead in difficult circumstances – maybe because of COVID, maybe because they are new to a role or new to a school, maybe they’re not getting the support they need from those with the purse strings . . . What they have in common is a deep feeling of hurt – betrayal almost by the very people they are trying to serve.
Why is that?
My gut feeling is that it is to do with being human, or more accurately, not being seen as human.
. . .
Steve and I often write about the leader’s role not defining us. It is part of who we are but not all of who we are, but does your team believe that too?
It can be very easy to unwittingly contribute to this misconception (that you are one dimensional). It’s a tough gig at the top and one way to mitigate risk is to metaphorically pull on your armour and present a “professional” face to your school.
There are many ways to do this – you can separate yourself by the way you dress, you can create a culture where you are always in charge, you can subtly discourage disagreement, you can pretend you know what to do in all situations . . . the list is long.
Meanwhile, your team are facing their own challenges. They too are struggling inside a pandemic, they too may also feel overwhelmed by workload or difficult situations. Their challenges are real too.
Then one day you hold a staff meeting and seemingly from out of left field, despite the huge effort you have clearly put into the situation, there is a total lack of kindness or understanding towards you. Churlish questions are asked, people’s faces show disapproval, you can almost taste the disdain in some corners of the room . . .
What!? Don’t they see how much of yourself you’ve put into this? How can they seemingly completely “forget” all the slack you have cut them – the leave granted, the thoughtful messages about achievements, the support of their initiatives . . .
. . .
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they have stopped seeing you as a person and now see you as “The principal” or “The Assistant Principal”. And when you are reduced to merely your official role, your feelings and emotions are easily discounted.
As a person, you are invisible.
. . .
I believe at least part of the answer is to lead from a position of humanity. You need to let your team see you as a person who happens to be their leader, rather than just a leader, fullstop.
And the way to do this is to be brave enough to be vulnerable.
“Vulnerable” – “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” The critical word here is capable – it’s the possibility that shows you as being human.
Brene Brown describes this beautifully.
There are simple actions that you can start (or do more often) tomorrow –
Admit when you don’t know
Ask for help
Talk about your life outside work
Share your aspirations
These things can help others see you as a person and when the going gets tough, that is a very good thing.