From the magazine; Lead with confidence

Continued professional development (CPD) is core to the evolving school business leader role. While there is a tendency to focus on the technical qualities required for leadership, independent consultant Laura Williams, of L J Business Consultancy Ltd, suggests it’s time to consider the soft skills you need in order to lead with confidence

Though it’s all too often low on our list of priorities, quality CPD is an essential part of our development. However, any CPD that we do have the opportunity to undertake is largely focused on acquiring knowledge to ensure we’re equipped to deal with every school-crisis imaginable. We study hard for accreditation, we join associations and unions, we read voraciously – and attend as many conferences and networking events as our crammed calendars will allow – all so we can ensure we are prepared.

The acquisition of knowledge
We spend so much time acquiring this knowledge that we never really take the time to learn about ourselves. When I first started working in school business leadership, over ten years ago, I had no issue at all accruing technical and theoretical knowledge. However, I found that it was a bit like getting my driving license; I was certified as a driver, and equipped with what I needed to get on the road and get moving, but the reality of the road was very different from what I had experienced in ‘test conditions’.
How we develop as leaders, and how well we perform in our jobs, is not just about what we know’, it’s also about how we interpret, adapt, apply and execute this knowledge in our context. It’s about how we, as individuals, operate within that context.

Demonstrating impact and gaining recognition
When I spoke at EdExec LIVE this year about demonstrating impact and gaining recognition the issues that SBMs spoke to me about were not related to their technical knowledge; their issues were specific to them and their context. While all had different skillsets, priorities and challenges, they also had in common a desire to find a way to express themselves more clearly within their organisations, and to be heard. I reassured them that, if they felt undervalued or ignored, this didn’t mean that they weren’t good at their jobs. I reminded them that they have the tools at their disposal to affect change, and talked about how they can use these these.

A place for coaching
The feedback I received confirmed my belief that the need for professional coaching for SBMs is greater than ever. With increased expectations, intense scrutiny and higher stakes than ever before, the school leadership landscape often feels like a very lonely place. Though professional associations, local groups, conferences and social media are great ways to share best practice and advice, they don’t necessarily afford the time, confidentiality or space needed to address some of the more complex and troubling issues we face.
As is often the case when we’re in a difficult place, or even just feeling stuck, we struggle to attain the wider viewpoint that we need to find a route out; this is exactly the type of situation where a professional coach could help. This could be anything from how to deal with a sensitive situation to looking to develop strategies to rebuild confidence – it could even be about putting together a plan of action to take your next career step.

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The discipline of coaching
Coaching is goal-oriented and is intended to create an impetus for change and to increase clarity and motivation to move forward. Through coaching we can objectively explore our strengths, priorities and challenges, as well as examining our vulnerabilities and anxieties, and identify key actions to create alignment between our knowledge, our organisations and ourselves. More importantly, perhaps, we can discover that the school leadership landscape doesn’t have to be as lonely as we sometimes feel it is.
When I speak to SBMs about coaching I always remind them of the power of questions – after all we spend a lot of time asking them! Questions are essential when it comes to challenging assumptions and we need to not only ask questions of other people, but also of ourselves. This can be especially hard for those of us who have been in the same role and/or worked for the same organisation for a long time.

Sources of support
If you’re feeling stuck, confused, lost, anxious or overwhelmed professional coaching could be the solution you’re looking for. There are three ways I advise SBMs to source a coach:

  1. Speak to your local SBM group
    Contact the leader of your local SBM group and ask them if they can put you in contact with a fellow SBM in the region who would be willing to work with you as a coach. This may well be an informal arrangement; tapping into that local expertise, and working with people who are further along in the journey, could really help you. The DfE has published a list of the school business professional networks here:
  2. Ask your peers for recommendations
    If you don’t have a local SBM group, or they are unable to help you right now, ask your peer network or SBMs working in schools nearby whether they have someone they can recommend. They may well be undertaking coaching themselves or have contacts that they can share with you.
  3. Source a coach independently
    If you’d prefer to look beyond your network, and are seeking a more confidential and formal arrangement, there are a number of independent and experienced school business professionals who provide focused coaching services to school business leaders. Remember that professional, independent coaching isn’t just for headteachers!

Whilst there a lot of things we must do on our own, struggling in silence isn’t one of them. You are not alone in this – you are seen, you are heard and you are deserving.

This article featured in the January issue of Education Executive. Subscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.

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