Leadership is centred on the people we lead. It’s a leader’s responsibility to get to know those for whom they’re responsible, support their development and in turn empower them to become autonomous leaders themselves. Strong leaders create an environment of transparency and trust, in which communication is clear and discussions are open.
These leadership attributes and skills are never more important than when organisations find themselves entering periods of significant change. Humans are creatures of habit, and impending or proposed change can be unsettling. It’s during these times that leaders need to step up and focus on the essential skills of effective leadership – communication, transparency, trust and honesty – whilst ensuring the wellbeing of their team. The staff making up that team will have questions. They may feel unsure, insecure, frustrated and potentially confused, as well as angry and frightened about the forthcoming change.
This can all be very challenging for a leader who must maintain a sense of ‘business as usual’, whilst simultaneously creating channels of communication so that staff can be kept informed of developments regarding the change and have their anxieties assuaged. Staff must be given opportunities to express their concerns to leaders and ask about how the change may affect them. The leader must listen, coach, mentor and advise.
Strong leaders will ensure that the change process has minimal negative impact on staff wellbeing and morale. During periods of change, leaders can expect to see a significant increase in their workload. They’ll be expected to attend additional meetings, take on extra tasks and familiarise themselves with all the documentation shared as part of the process, so that they’re in a position to respond appropriately to any questions staff may have. Leaders may also be exposed to sensitive information not shared with the wider workforce, due to the concerns and stress it might cause – an additional pressure that leaders might have to contend with for a significant period of time.
A leader willing to take on all the above will be hugely beneficial to their staff, who will likely feel supported, respected and cared for as a result – as well as better informed and knowledgeable, at what can be a difficult time.
But who in such circumstances will support the leader? This leader will be privy to the true reality of the challenges being faced, while having to keep it to themselves. They will have seen the demands placed on their time grow exponentially, despite having to contend with uncertainties of their own. They will have given up time to listen to staff worries and concerns. They will have offered positive perspectives and boosted morale, while staying behind at the end of the week to ensure staff are fully updated on all current progress.
Who will ask this leader if they’re okay? Who will ask the leader if they have any questions? Who will support the leader when they make important decisions regarding possible options and opportunities? Who will monitor their wellbeing? Who does for the leader what the leader does for so many others?
Leadership can be lonely. It’s the role of a leader to look after their team, yet at times of significant change, leaders themselves must be looked after too. Otherwise, the team may make it down the rocky path to an exciting future, but minus the person who made that future possible.
Catherine Carden is the faculty director of primary initial teacher education at Canterbury Christ Church University and has a research interest in educational leadership