Awareness. It seems fairly obvious that as a leader you would be aware of your actions, but you'd be surprised. We can think about how we - individually and corporately - portray the role of 'leader'. We may 'power-dress', use 'leadership language', attend internal and external leadership networking events and 'feel' the role and state that we are 'aware' of ourselves as leaders. But do we think as carefully about the impact WE bring to our organisations on others? Are we mindful of the organisation and how the constraints that shape and influence what we do? Do we work with these constraints and opportunities to get the best out of our teams that we lead? Or are we frustrated and spend inordinate amounts of time 'fighting' the system?
My awareness of how I impact on the lives of others has been a slow one - and my understanding of this in my leadership development has been equally as slow. Yes - I am clear on self awareness and the associated thinking with this. Having a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals. We are then empowered to make changes and to build on our areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. However this isn't necessarily my focus. I am conscious of what we don't actively do - which impacts on ourselves, others and the environment that we operate within.
Headship is easily the most exhilarating job in the world. I loved it and I still love what headteachers do. Leadership of staff and pupils and the community that makes a school in its entirety is a privilege. One of my biggest lessons as a leader was understanding that self awareness is just a part of the picture - the importance of anticipating the actions of others (which of course can blindside you as people are people!) and also recognising what you bring and how that add or detracts to the situation. The readiness to adapt and to challenge and be challenged on what you believe is also crucial to meeting the needs of others and I always aimed to strengthen my service leadership style by being attentive to the 'mood' of the environment. On reflection I believe that there is too much emphasis for leaders to lean on their self awareness without the connection to what that really means for the teams that they lead. That's my experience - but maybe it's balanced that way for a reason? As the leader we 'set' the weather. What we bring is how we do.
The quote by Audre Lorde resonates with me and describes my current state of understanding with regards to my drive and ambition in life to 'make a difference'. Alan Watts, the British philosopher and writer posed the question the seemingly simple question of what you would do if money were no object. It is a simple question but you would be surprised how many of us would struggle to answer this question! I have been in a position to give this question some serious thought since leaving my substantive school headship post in July 2019. I reasoned that I had had enough of the organisation that I had been working for and wanted to do the same thing in another setting. Interestingly enough, I was given the opportunity to do exactly what I had thought I wanted a matter of months after leaving my headship post. However - and we often say this idiom with a touch of irony - I should have been careful of what I wished for, as it wasn't what I truly wanted. Covid 19 was the 'nudge' that made me seriously look at what I was doing. I made the decision to change course. This is where Audre Lorde's quote was whispering and then speaking firmly to me. I needed to 'speak out' and my current employment was not enabling me to do this. By 'speaking out' and ensuring that my values are at the centre of all that I do - the separation of them from what I do is not an option for me any more and I recognise that this is a key motivator for me to operate at my best.
I am currently following the Resilient Leaders Development Programme (RLDP). This leadership development course enables leaders to gain greater resilience, and its design is very skilful in bringing out strength and unknown skillsets so that leaders can lead with confidence in a world where the pace of change is, at the moment, rapid and where resilience is required in spades. The two big concepts of 'Who I Am' and What I Do' are, for me, what makes the course so valuable for me. It's very easy to think and believe that 'What I Do' is 'What I Am'. The separation of the two concepts has been a revelation to me - and its enabled me to ask the question that Alan Watts posed and to think seriously about my answers - which fluctuate but are becoming ever stronger as I give myself the time to reflect and analyse.
How we think about ourselves, others and the environment - the three facets of the Awareness element - falls under the 'Who I Am' lens. What I am discovering as I learn more about myself and this specific element, is that we bring a specific energy that can speed up or slow down the dynamic within a team or organisation and without being aware of the qualities, we may wonder why we can't progress, or that we can only work with specific personnel, or that we keep clashing with the same people over the same situation?
The ability to appreciate who we are, who others are and where we are isn't easy in our daily working lives, where the pressures of decision making, team dynamics and operational constraints add up and can combust at any given point! We all have an understanding of what we would like to be and what we actually are according to others and my peer assessment data tells me this. I am grateful that I can reflect and work on my understanding of awareness. Awareness is the act of looking in the mirror and coming to terms with what you see - the real power of awareness is what you do with what you see and the ways you can ensure that it benefits you and others for good.