Irrespective of how good you are, or how good you think you are, nothing is achieved in senior leadership without the support of the team around you. Understanding and appreciating this is going to be key to your success as a leader.
There will be times when you need advice, guidance, help and even the odd reality check. It’s therefore essential that there’s a mutual trust and respect between you so that, no matter what, you know they’ll go that extra mile for you.
Trust and respect don’t just come from your job title; you have to earn them and work on them. Granted, in the first few weeks of your new role, staff will be out to impress you and get on the right side of you, but this will soon wear off if they find out that you’re not a nice person to work for.
Yes, they’ll do as you ask, but that’s as far as it will go. No running through walls or going the extra mile. That only comes when you have the utmost respect for someone, because you know that they’d do the same for you. Every school is different and will operate in a different context, but in almost every school you’ll have to build up professional working relationships with the following groups of people.
The mistake that many inexperienced senior leaders make is to not go out of their way to forge strong and immediate relationships with significant members of the governing body. Over the course of your school improvement journey, you’ll need to rely on your governing body to support you through change management, so having their 100% trust and confidence in you will make things significantly easier.
As a newly appointed member of the leadership team, the best time to build up this trust and confidence is straight away. The governing body will still have you fresh in their minds after recently appointing you and will be keen to see you hit the ground running.
Manufacturing opportunities to talk to the relevant members of the governing body about your vision and, in time, your impact will do you no harm whatsoever. Keeping them regularly in the loop about your plans and your progress will ensure that when the time comes for you to call on their support, they are on the same page as you.
In most schools, senior leadership teams will have designated school governors for different areas of the Ofsted framework so they can hold the leaders responsible to account. Good practice is to schedule termly meetings with your link governors so that they have regular progress updates and are formally kept in the loop.
Getting to know your colleagues in SLT is a must. School improvement can be a tough road and there will be bumps and diversions along the way. Having the full support of your colleagues through these testing times is so important, especially if you’re new to the school.
Seldom will you not need a hug, a cry or a general pick-me-up conversation during your time as a senior leader in today’s educational landscape. Strong relationships are key for this. Getting to really know your colleagues lets you feel you can open up to them, but also be there to support them in their hour of need.
This bond and togetherness is what successful teams pride themselves on. There’s no real complicated strategy to making this happen, apart from just spending time with them.
Taking the time to sit with them, talk to them and get to know them is easy; it’s just that when we’re so busy, this social bonding seems to be not as important as some of the other things on our list.
However, the time you invest in people by talking to them about work and their own lives away from school will reap you the rewards in the long term. Social nights out with your colleagues can also bring people much closer together and let people see you as a real person away from the day-to-day stresses of the job.
Just remember, though, that when alcohol is involved, things can sometimes go differently from how you may have envisaged them. Having a few drinks is fine, but remember that you’re trying to build a positive impression of yourself to your new colleagues.
If people believe in you and see your authenticity as a leader, they’ll follow you and your vision. In a big school, getting to know each and every member of staff in the way you might do your fellow senior leadership colleagues is going to be unrealistic; however, there are a few easy strategies that will quickly build up your professional relationships with staff, giving them confidence and trust in you as a new leader.
Get out of your office as much as you can. One thing that people in any organisation don’t like is leaders who hide away in their offices and don’t know what it’s like on the ground. No matter how busy you might think you are, spending time in the school corridors, the school playground or the dining hall at break and lunch time will raise your stock in the staffroom overnight. Sending that message to staff that ‘I’m with you’ can mean everything to some people.
The very nature of being out and about in the school allows you to talk to people and start building up those professional relationships. Imagine the teacher who wasn’t sure of you coming in as a new leader in the school and was wary until she or he got to know you. By stopping to talk in the corridor with them at breaktime, you can instantly let them get to know you a bit better and have a normal conversation about the weather or what you both did at the weekend, letting them see you as a real person, just like them.
Something people in any organisation hate is having to do things without being told why. Leaders sometimes forget that the people on the ground don’t always see the bigger picture because they haven’t been privy to the same information or experience as you. Therefore, some decisions and new policies can seem pointless, excessive and a general waste of time. The last thing you want as a new leader in a school is for your first new policy change or strategic implementation of an idea to go down like a lead balloon because the staff don’t see the point behind it.
Support staff in any school are the unsung heroes who make the school tick. They’re usually among the lowest paid staff, but do some of the most important day-to-day jobs. No matter what role you do as a senior leader, you’ll need significant help from the support staff in your school.
Whether it’s answering the phones in the school office and being the friendly face that parents and visitors see, the administration work they do on the attendance data-crunching or the letters they send out for you, you wouldn’t be able to do your job without them. Taking the time to stop and thank them can make all the difference if you’re wanting to build strong and lasting positive relationships.
Jon Tait is an experienced senior leader, currently working as a deputy headteacher at a secondary school; this article is an edited extract taken from his book Bloomsbury CPD Library: Senior Leadership published by Bloomsbury.