From the magazine: Seven skills to supercharge performance

What sorts of skills do school business managers really need? Emma-Sue Prince, author of 7 Skills for the Future, offers some tips on how to ensure good productivity, high energy levels and positive wellbeing in the workplace

You are probably used to tapping into a variety of skills, techniques and competences to manage your school and to get the most out of your team and you have probably had to learn quickly to develop and foster those skills you don’t have. Yet you may not have thought about these seven critical skills that supercharge performance, productivity and commitment and, ultimately, happiness in your school.

These aren’t skills you’ll learn on a management development course, but they are skills that you can develop and nurture every day – and experience amazing results. These are the (only) skills you need.

1. Adaptability. This is about being flexible and completely ok with uncertainty and change – someone who is not afraid to leave their comfort zone and try new things. So, look for challenges and opportunities to solve problems. You can also exercise adaptability by getting comfortable with asking for – and taking – feedback from others, without becoming defensive.

This is a fundamental leadership skill that many lack. You may not be used to asking teachers, governors, parents or even pupils how you could get better at your job; try it and see what happens – notice any tendency to become defensive and become more aware of what triggers this, and why.

If others know you are happy to have their feedback they will relax a lot more – and, if they experience you not being daunted by new challenges, they will also become more flexible and ok with uncertainty.

2. Critical thinking. This is the ability to question assumptions – both your own and others’ – and to always ask lots of questions. You need to be a fluid, creative and resourceful thinker who can problem-solve and work well with others – both as team player and a leader.

Be more mindful of how you are using technology. Don’t get into the habit of constantly reacting to your smartphone or checking emails – make time to reflect and process situations and challenges so you are better able to come up with new ideas and solutions. Allow your staff to do the same – make time for this. What you don’t want is a team who are suffering from burnout and information overload.

3. Empathy. Empathy is the key for successful, collaborative and effective professional relationships. We all crave being connected and validated – these are huge contributors to happiness and wellbeing. As a leader you must be able to listen well, pay attention and focus. Even though we are all tied to our smartphones, look at this behaviour a lot more closely. If you’re unable to be present, and in the moment, then you’ll be equally unable to fully listen to others – and you will be more reactive, as a result.

Leaders who cultivate empathy will always get the best results from others because they, in turn, feel cared for, nurtured and valued. This means really making time to talk to parents and staff – and being available.

4. Integrity. This is all about values and how we behave in practice, regardless of what we might say or the veneer we present to the world. Do you do what you say you will do? Do you keep promises – even the smallest ones? Are you committed and accountable? Do you ‘walk the talk’? Trust is everything in leadership. If you don’t trust those you manage, and if they don’t trust you, then your school will fail. Does trust need to be earned? Probably, but test it out first by simply asking yourself some questions about your values, how you make decisions and to what extent you feel personally accountable for your actions and commitments. Only then can you expect others to do the same.

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5. Optimism. Are you a ‘radiator’ or a ‘drain’? Your staff will be able to answer this immediately. This is an easy one to spot because people so often bring their inner energy into the room with them – it can be quite tangible sometimes. We all know how it feels to be around someone with low energy; make sure you’re not that person. As a leader you need to be high energy, enthusiastic and action-oriented; it’s contagious, and it spreads happiness.

6. Being proactive. You need staff who are empowered to easily take the initiative and work autonomously. When things are changing so fast you need people who can spot opportunities that even you can’t – and have the freedom and autonomy to act on them. This is also about proactively problem-solving and being solution-seekers. So, be a leader who enables others to be proactive and take the initiative, and make sure you are also doing this yourself. When we are proactive we focus our energy in the right way and feel much happier as a result.

7. Resilience. This is a hot topic right now and a key skill you want – both for yourself and your school. This is all about being able to bounce back from setbacks quickly and not being afraid to make mistakes.  Failing fast – getting out there and failing, and then learning and bouncing back – are key here. When is the last time you failed at something? Make sure you do more of that and that you are ok for your staff to do so too. Let’s also remember that resilience is about building and nurturing a strong support network for yourself, as well as being a part of that support for your team.

Nurture just these seven skills – both within yourself and in those you manage – and you will experience more happiness, bounce, creativity and productivity in your school than you ever imagined to be possible!

Emma-Sue Prince is an inspirational soft skills and effective behaviours expert and author of 7 Skills for the Future, which is published by Pearson.

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

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