Recently I spoke about leadership in education at a Women in Education conference. I gave a short talk, titled ‘Equipping yourself with the skills and insight needed for success’, and shared the session with Dr Harriet Dunbar-Morris. We did not confer in advance and our talks had differences and similarities.
As a result, I pondered how different we all are and how our journeys are unique and personal. Yet there are common themes and many ways of doing things.
Learning to lead
What have I learned about leadership?
I found my first weeks as a trainee teacher tough. I wasn’t much good at my chosen profession and I didn’t enjoy being less than good.
My college tutor bought me a gift one day. It was a photocopy of Durer’s woodcut of a rhinoceros. Her advice, which has proved relevant time and again, was that I needed to grow a rhino hide. To get on, you have to be able to take the bad bits and keep on going. I eventually became a good teacher.
The second breakthrough in my leadership development came on a course led by Geoff Hannan in 1989. He talked about research which demonstrated that successful people have many more failures than their less successful peers. I took this as permission to fail and to keep on going. Indeed, every failure I notched up, I chose to see as a stepping stone to success.
Seeing the positives in failure
At that stage, I wasn’t aware of Carol Dweck’s research on open and closed mindsets or Matthew Syed’s book Black Box Thinking, which later made sense of it all for me. I understood how to learn from my failures. I learned how to live with them and review them, and to work out what I could do better next time. I realised that a level of humility would help me ask other people what they thought I could do better next time and what I might want to think about or practise.
To be successful, you need to be sure in your mind what success means to you. The answer will be different for everyone.
I’m surprised how many hours people spend working on their institution’s future plans, yet devote little time to planning their own next steps.
Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to think about yourself and to invest in your own future. It’s not selfish, it’s practical because it brings benefits to everybody. It’s also important to do this for others. As leaders, we need to think about what we can do to help others grow.
It’s important to reflect and develop self-awareness. With insight, we can decide what qualities to celebrate and what areas to work on. And then work on those, whether they’re skills, knowledge or behavioural attributes.
It’s also important to consider other people’s needs and what they want from you. This applies to people at all levels.
Making an impact
One of the most rewarding aspects of working for Ofsted is the opportunity to do good as you go. We celebrate people’s successes and aim to help them think things through by asking developmental and sometimes challenging questions. Whatever the outcome of an inspection, our aim is to leave an institution in a better place. Not every provider would agree that we achieve this. Yet, in our post inspection survey, 91 per cent of responders said that our inspection findings would help schools improve. A National Audit Office survey of headteachers also found two-thirds of headteachers said there was useful feedback in inspection reports and 44 per cent said that inspection had led to improvements in their school, as opposed to 28 per cent who disagreed.
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said at the Festival of Education that she is "attracted to the idea of school leaders coming to Ofsted for four or five years, and then returning to a more senior leadership position taking with them everything they’ve learned through inspection". I agree. This is an attractive proposition, for the inspectorate, schools and individuals. Lots of people have done this already. I’m confident that their time at Ofsted was developmental to their understanding of the sector and their analytical and leadership skills. And I’m sure that we can learn from each other and in doing so benefit the young people we serve.