This too, shall pass.
Leading and Learning Through Uncertainty
2020, the year of leading through uncertainty for leaders in organisations across the world. We have been inspired by leaders who are compassionate and driven by a sense of commitment. Jacinda Arden, the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been a subject of discussion for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been swift to act with effective communication to her citizens. Leading by example, she has taken a 20 per cent wage cut, demonstrating solidarity with those people who have lost their jobs. But, in my view and in the eyes of many others, Jacinda Arden has put kindness at the top of her agenda.
Jacinda Arden is one of the leaders reflecting the skills and attributes I aspire to show within my role as head teacher of a large primary school. She has a clear sense of ‘what she does’ and ‘who she is’ as outlined in the Resilient Leaders Elements (RLE) programme.
I have been fortunate to have knowledge of the RLE and the online Resilient Leaders Development Programme (RLDP™) throughout my two headships over 18 years. I love headship and have navigated times of pressure and challenge, knowing that I can draw on the ‘leadership muscle ‘strengths I have built by using the RLDP™. When a stressful situation then passes, as they all eventually do, I welcome calmer times when I can continue exploring and deepening my understanding of leadership skills.
RLE has given me a comprehensive language of leadership: It enables me to set a clear context. Knowing where I am as a leader and focusing on the outcomes I want to achieve, is a skill that has required Clarity of Direction and a determination to succeed in the face of adversity. Supported by Resilient Decision Making, the choices I make need to be robust, yet versatile, when the situation requires swift action. This ensures the choices I make when facing a crisis such as COVID-19 are the best ones. Balancing the emotions that are needed to motivate myself as a leader, and to inspire my team, requires me to have an Awareness of myself and others, as well as the environment we work in. In knowing who we are as leaders, we have presence and can serve our communities with authenticity.
The last three months have been some of the most challenging to navigate as a school leader. We have received ever-changing government guidance on a daily basis that has required both versatile and robust decision making depending on the context of the communities we serve. I have always asked two questions, ‘What is the purpose?’ and ‘How will this benefit the children and the community we serve as a school?’
In order to answer those questions, I needed the school team of staff to be committed followers. We have embedded a very clear strategic intent for our school over time, reflected in our mission statement, ‘Determined to Succeed’, this was a strong anchor for us from the first week of lockdown.
Holding weekly staff meetings with over 60 staff members ensured I had an awareness of the needs of my staff and the environment they were working in. Their needs varied, with some staff feeling stressed and overwhelmed, whilst others saw opportunities to learn and seek renewed energy. The underlying theme for all staff was to re-balance. As a leadership team, we invested in the RLE re-balance programme over a four week period. A RLE consultant led us through a weekly 50 minute course where people could share their fears, look for opportunities, find time for reflection and remain calm. One of my colleagues gave this feedback.
“Thank you for providing us with a valuable space and time for reflection and calm. In a time when we are all apprehensive and uncertain, you were able to give us some tools to grow, develop and be positive.”
If I had to draw on one element that has kept me especially focused during this time it would be Leadership Presence and within that element, the facet of Intentional Leadership. Two statements from this facet have guided my decision making during COVID-19:
· I stay on purpose even when others are being unhelpful or negative
· I have the courage to change my approach in order to achieve the goal
I have worked with the RLDP™ since 2003 and have drawn on this work, and especially these statements, to remain on point and feel secure in my decisions as I lead from the front. Today, I made a really tough decision to cancel an outdoor event we had planned for our year 6 pupils. This decision was one of many where I had to be courageous in order for us to achieve the goal of reaching the end of term safe and happy. When stakeholders have presented negative attitudes or made unhelpful comments, I have remained focused on those questions, ‘What is the purpose?’ and ‘How will this benefit the children and the community we serve as a school?’
‘What is the purpose?’ and ‘How will this benefit the children and the community we serve as a school?’
I am sure we have all learned plenty about ourselves as people and leaders throughout COVID-19 crisis. I know that without the knowledge and skills I have gleaned from RLE and the RLDP™, I wouldn’t have navigated this spectrum of uncertainty as confidently.
This too, will pass…but it will come again. Maybe it will come in another form, but I know I have the tools from the RLE to make resilient decisions to lead the school that I love.