With many school business managers transitioning to – or at least identifying with – the role of school business leader, Steve Radcliffe, author of Leadership Plain and Simple, looks at the true meaning of ‘leadership’
We can all make a bigger difference by being more of a leader, but the leadership industry doesn’t, at times, make it easy for people to see how.
Firstly, you have to see yourself as a leader and really believe it. One recent survey found that an alarming 66% of people believe that leadership is a ‘very rare quality’. Well, it’s not. Leading is a natural activity – a part of us all – regardless of position, title or place in the education hierarchy. You already have the ‘leadership muscles’ needed; you simply need to develop them through practice.
To encourage you further to think this way, here’s one of my favourite quotes from US president, John Quincy Adams. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This quote emphasises that you already are a leader, you just need to make sure you believe it!
However, beware, because you may not be in what I call your ‘leader mode’ as often as you’d like to be. Let me expand. In our early days at work we succeeded by becoming effective ‘operators’. We learned a trade and fixed this and delivered that. We then started to develop a strong ‘manager mode’, in which we looked after the practical aspects of an organisation, including supervising other operators. Before long, we each have a well-honed operator/manager mode in which we feel both competent and comfortable. But now we are asked also to be leaders and develop our leader mode.
The challenge is that I have yet to find one person who tells me they spend as much time as they want in leader mode without regularly being pulled back into operator/manager mode.
Spend more time in leader mode
What do you notice about yourself? What could you do to spend more time in your best leader mode?
One thing you can do to spend more time there is to have a clear picture of what’s involved in leading, as distinct from managing. One of my ‘aha’ moments, many years ago, was when I realised that leading in any situation always boils down to three essential aspects, each with its own ‘leadership muscle’. I call them Future – Engage – Deliver (FED). Let’s look at each of them individually in more detail.
First, leading always starts in the Future
It always starts with ideas and thoughts about what you’d like to see in the future, how you’d like things to be, where you’d like to get to or what you’d like to build. We have many words to describe these ideas; these include ‘goal, target, ambition, aspiration, dream, vision, mission, direction and strategic intent’. These are all ways of describing the future you want.
The most powerful and effective leaders are not just in touch with the future they want – they are guided by it. And, more than this, the leader is strongest when that future is powerfully connected to what he or she cares about. Why does this matter? Because the more commitment the leader has for the desired future, the more they will persist, the more energy they’ll bring along the way and the more they’ll stay ‘up to something’.
Second, if you want the help of others to create that Future, you’ll need to Engage them
That is, you will interact with them in a way that has them wanting to build the future with you. Engagement is central to a leader’s ability to build alignment, involvement, ownership, unity and team. Crucially, it is absolutely distinct from ‘communicating to’, ‘presenting at’, or ‘telling’. I am staggered that so many leaders still appear to believe that, in order to get the best from others, it’s enough for them simply to ‘transmit’ their ideas or wishes. Well, it isn’t.
Engaging others is a two-way interaction, and it’s something that happens inside your working relationships. To be fully effective, you’ll need to engage people in yourself, as well as in the future you want to create – and this calls for qualities like integrity, openness and consistency.
When engagement occurs, not only is an enormous sense of possibility generated, but people will be ready to knock down barriers as they pursue what they have helped to invent. What’s possible for a group or organisation when people are really engaged can be immense.
And third, in Deliver, you make things happen
This is where words like ‘performance, execution, implementation and results’ live. Leading doesn’t stop with ‘vision’ or ‘team’; it ends with getting the best out of yourself and others in order to deliver results.
So, when you are ‘up to something’, you start with ideas about what you’d like to see in the Future. Then you talk with others so they want to build it with you – you Engagethem. Then you encourage and support them to make it happen, to Deliver– and, if you’re really being a leader rather than a doer, the other people you’ve engaged will make most of it happen.
Practice makes perfect
Whatever the ambition or goal, this is what’s involved: Future – Engage – Deliver. You’ll notice I don’t dwell on leadership competencies or qualities. Rather, I prefer to focus on what you have to get done and what you have to practice. If you want to be truly effective:
- you have to be guided by a Future you want;
- you have to Engage others; and
- you have to Deliver.
This article featured in the June/July issue of Education Executive. Subscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.