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Loving leadership? Or overworked and out of your depth?

This blog was originally written for Laughology

Let’s be honest, even if the majority of the time you love being a leader, there will be tricky weeks, days or moments. That’s the nature of leadership, right?

My background is in education. I went from being a class teacher to a head teacher over the course of 17 years.

As a new head, I had to oversee a £7m rebuild; manage an expansion programme which saw our pupil numbers double in size and, 4 weeks in with impeccable timing, Ofsted called!

Alongside this, I realised that my days were now filled with activities around budgeting, safeguarding, recruitment and retention, improvement planning and health and safety - before and after school car parking is the bane of many heads’ lives!

All of this needed a completely different skill set to the one I had as a teacher and was far removed from the reasons that I went into the profession in the first place.

Develop your own essential skills.

At Laughology, we are often asked to work with people who are brilliant at their day job. They are experts in their field, which might be engineering, law, finance or IT. Because of this, somebody assumed they would make great middle or senior leaders.

As we know though, leading, managing and developing others can’t be done through a spreadsheet or a bit of mathematical wizardry. You need, what used to be called, ‘soft skills,’ but organisations now recognise these aren’t ‘soft,’ they are essential. They include:

The really good news is that all of these can be developed. But where to start?

It might be helpful to ask for a 360° appraisal (or similar). This compares how you think you’re doing with the thoughts of your team, your peers and your line manager. It identifies things that you are doing well and should continue. Yay! As well as things that you should start or stop doing.

You need to ask people who will be open and honest – otherwise it’s a waste of time and money. And you need to be prepared to receive the feedback positively. This can sometimes be difficult, but asking for and receiving feedback well is another essential leadership skill.

Once you’ve identified your areas for improvement (‘the what’), it’s time to chat to your boss to make an action plan (‘the how’). Options include:

  • Engaging a leadership coach.

  • If your organisation already has action learning sets, joining one of these. If your organisation doesn’t, why not suggest them – you won’t be the only one who benefits.

  • Researching training opportunities. For example, workshops on positive communication or programmes such as Being a People Manager. If you ask around, there are bound to be others in your organisation who would love the chance to upskill themselves and that can only be good for the business.

Develop your team’s essential skills.

Once you’re in a leadership role, people turn to you for answers. Sometimes that’s okay; the quickest and best option. However, in the long run, this leads to a learned helplessness and a lack of diverse thinking. So:

  • Don’t be a brittle know all – even if you do, in fact, think you know it all! Instead, model being a fallible finder outer. It’s okay to say that you don’t know, at the moment.

  • Show your own vulnerabilities, share your areas to improve and encourage others to do the same, so that you can support each other.

  • Be aware that there are often many solutions to a problem. Before you dive in with yours, open up the floor to other ideas by embedding a FLIP It Thinking approach.

  • Rethink your recruitment processes. We are drawn to people who think like us, act like us and solve problems in the same way to us. Aim to develop a team who think differently to each other; who can have fun, lively and motivational debates; and who embrace change as an exciting next chapter.

Of course, for all of the above there are other essential leadership skills needed. In particular, the ability to create a psychologically safe environment, with an awareness of your unconscious bias.

Develop everyone’s organisational skills

Lack of time and heavy workload are things that most people struggle with. Sometimes it can feel counter-intuitive to spend time that you don’t think you have chatting to people about these things. But, by investing in these conversations, you will help others as well as yourself.

Understand where your team are in terms of their skills, knowledge and understanding:

  • Do they need close support at the moment, from a work buddy, who gets them started on something new and then has regular check-ins? As well as getting the job done, this can help to increase capacity and with succession planning.

  • Are they okay to fly solo on most things? Maybe they just need regular coaching catch ups with you, to check they’re on track.

  • Are they someone that you can delegate to? Here is another leadership skill in terms of letting things go. Firstly, being confident to physically hand over work and secondly, accepting that it won’t always be done as you would like/ you would have done. Unless there are major flaws, not being tempted to tamper or tweak, but remembering that good is good enough, and giving appropriate reward and recognition.

One of the best things that I learnt as a head was how to delegate. And if you can find someone who is prepared, and even happy, to don a high vis jacket and deal with shouty parents in the car park (or whatever your equivalent is), then you’re one step closer to loving being a leader again.


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