Photo by Leon

The busier you are, the harder it is to find the time and energy necessary to reflect on even small things. 

Which is likely the reason you usually buy a particular brand of toothpaste when at the supermarket. And also the same reason that it’s tough to step back and consider bigger things – things like how you do the job called school leadership.

One excellent way past this road block is called a sabbatical, another is to be confronted with some shocking data.


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A week ago, Steve and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a principal conference in New Plymouth, New Zealand. The delegates were mainly leaders from small, rural schools where the principal often has to teach as well as lead. They wear a lot of different hats.

During a short presentation, we asked four simple questions directly related to delegates’ personal wellness and by association, their long term effectiveness as leaders – hours worked, stress, sleep, and exercise.


This is what they told us:

1. Hours worked


 In New Zealand, fulltime work is considered to be 30 hours or more per week and in 2020, the average NZ man meeting that definition worked 37 hours and the average NZ woman just over 30.


However, 92% of the conference delegates worked 50+ hours per week and nearly half (46%) worked 60+!

This is even more intense than the latest national data regarding principal workload. Leading small schools is a tough gig.

2. Stress level


Stress is a tricky thing to quantify and is obviously subjective, but nearly half of the delegates reported operating in a constantly stressed state.

3. Sleep


The chart above tells it’s story clearly – this group of leaders are constantly working in a sleep deficit. We know from the current science that regular poor sleep is dangerous for both physical and mental health. 

4. Exercise – the WHO says that you need at least 5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week, plus 2 muscle strengthening sessions.


Only 11% of the delegates are doing the minimum recommended exercise. A whopping 41% are doing almost none!! When we looked at the total data set, there is a strong correlation between those working exceptionally long hours and a lack of exercise – not rocket science, but something to note.

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So . . . does any of the information above shock you? It might not surprise you, but does it make you stop for a moment and think? As wise people have noted, the status quo is not a “cost neutral” position and continuing to do the same things yet expecting different outcomes is the definition of crazy.

Your human body and mind don’t care that you are passionate about your job, that you are doing important work, or that you hope you will be an exception to any nasty looking health possibilities – they simply react to what you do to them. Particularly over the longer timeframe.

Where does your own reality sit in relation to the data above? And what would it take to convince you to frame the how of your school leadership in a healthier way?

Not all is doom and gloom though, the numbers above also include individuals who are doing things differently. They still lead schools but they make choices about the how. They sleep better, exercise more, stress less, and work sustainable hours. A more detailed analysis of the data shows that all four outcomes are linked.

And this goodness is not impossible for you – the very fact that you are interested enough to read this post means you are thinking, which is the first step to change.

You can do this too.


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