Have you ever thought, ‘Am I really up to this job?’ If not, then you probably aren’t. Certainty is for dictators and losers; a little self-doubt distinguishes the most effective leaders, and is a mark of humanity, humility and the ability to reflect. Yet too much doubt can be paralysing.
Confidence can be eroded gradually over many months or smashed by a single event. Poor behaviour, underperforming staff, bad results and antagonistic parents can all keep you sat in your car outside school, trying to muster the will to enter, but appearing confident can be the first step to stopping the rot and regaining the real thing.
Take a deep breath and act like you have all the confidence in the world. Stride purposefully into that building, make eye contact with everyone you meet and announce through your body language that you’re in charge, bloodied but unbowed – even if you’re actually quaking in your boots and sick at heart.
Your confidence will be sorely tested if faced with a large group of disgruntled staff or parents. Never, under any circumstances agree to meet angry mobs in a large group.
I attended one such meeting early in my career and it didn’t end well. Instead, meet your campaigners one by one in the privacy of your office where you have the home advantage and a fighting chance of picking them off.
If you’ve been knocked back by a bad set of results, did you see it coming? Did you take steps to boost the students’ chances? Did you prepare the PR ground, so that your governors, staff and parents were already expecting bad news before results day, thereby dissipating its impact?
If your bad results are surprising, find a trusted confidant in your setting (or outside it) who can act as a sounding board, since a lack of confidence can affect your ability to see straight. Above all, though, keep a sense of perspective. Exam results are important, but not a matter of life and death.
Some leaders lose confidence after giving negative feedback to staff, worrying about it, taking it home and stewing on it. If someone’s underperforming, that’s not your fault. They’ll need support to improve, and it’s your duty to make them aware of this. Prepare some notes of your arguments and evidence ahead of time, and at the meeting, get any bad news out quickly and clearly – ‘That lesson wasn’t up to standard’ – keeping the personal separate from the professional. You might not be talking to a ‘bad person’, but they are being paid to teach. And right now, they’re not earning their money.
In summary, wear big hats, buy yourself time by acting the part and manage those things which, unmanaged, may dent your confidence. And if all else fails, simply list all your achievements since taking the job – because believe me, there’ll be many more than you think.
Kevin Harcombe is the headteacher at Redlands Primary School, Fareham.