The supplement in last week’s SecEd offering advice to middle leaders contains much that is important and useful, but there is more to it than that.
Leaders need to know that they lead with their whole person, not just their professional expertise. As a leader the first thing you need to do is discover and articulate who you really are, what it is you believe in, and what personal qualities you wish to espouse and model. It’s commonplace to say that leadership needs moral purpose, but moral purpose is not just something you say, it’s something you believe, embody as a person, and something you live out in every aspect of your work and life.
Although you can always learn from leadership theory or people whose leadership you admire, the deepest and hardest learning as a leader is to know who you are, and practice absolute authenticity. Whole person leadership encompasses far more than just modelling good practice - it includes moral and intellectual leadership as well.
Values and character matter for young people because they matter for us as adults. They have been squeezed out of education as an unintentional side-effect of an (quite correctly) intensified, though sometimes too one-dimensional, focus on standards. As CS Lewis said, “education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man [sic] a more clever devil.”
But values and character have been squeezed with teachers and leaders as well. Values are not just something we develop in young people, but something which motivates and shapes us as adults, teachers and leaders. Values and ethos go beyond standards: it is not good enough to say that your ‘values’ as a school or a teacher are ‘high standards for all’ – that is not an articulation of values, it is a statement of aspiration. Values need to touch something deeper. What are we for as people? What is our worth and destiny, and how does this shape our moral purpose as educators of the young? That is the level at which leadership truly inspires others and changes lives.
It is often said that teaching is not so much a job as a ‘vocation’. Any leader, of a private or public organisation, will tell you that getting all team members to believe in the importance of what they are doing and to share values and ethos, is a prerequisite for a successful organisation. It comes before, and is of a higher order than, any specific set of actions. ‘Vocation’ is not just a euphemism for a poorly paid job. It is an awareness of a higher and shared sense of purpose. Without that shared set of beliefs, all the complex and disparate actions will be more fragile, less meaningful and less sustainable.
To be a great leader, think about what you really believe as a person and as a teacher, because that will shape who you are and what you do. Beliefs need to be authentic, otherwise you will not be consistent – hypocrisy is easy to spot.
Understand that values are not just something you are supposed to teach children, they are something that needs to come out through every pore of your skin. Your role as a leader is vocational: you embody what you want your team, and the young people you serve, to become.
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