New to middle or senior leadership? Beware the social pitfalls!

2014-03-04 00:00

New to middle or senior leadership?  Beware the social pitfalls!



Whether you are promoted internally or move to a senior position within a new school, you do not want to cut yourself off from the teachers below you in the food chain. However, there are some socialising rules and pitfalls that leaders need to be wary of to ensure you do not compromise your authority or your position. 



This article gives you a run down.


You’ve got the promotion, got the title, got the pay rise, you might even have got a new desk, but have you now lost your social life?  For many of you teachers-become-leaders who are now leading and managing former fellow strivers at the chalk face, it can come as a bit of a shock the first time that you’re not invited to the pub with the rest of the gang.  You’re still the same person aren’t you?


Well, yes and no.


Yes, you’re still you, still have the same character, same values, same feelings.  But actually you’re also someone different. You’re often the person where the buck stops if your colleagues get things wrong, as well as being responsible for your own messes.  You’re the one who now has to support them, advise them, assess them, guide them, persuade them, occasionally instruct them and even, possibly, take them through disciplinary or capability proceedings. 

So a certain distance is bound to come into your relationship with them.  And that is as it should be.

Some schools have a pronounced Them and Us culture which you can’t brush away at first go; you’ll need to tread carefully here.  And even if there’s a more relaxed atmosphere with general mingling of the Chiefs and Indians, you’ll still need to tiptoe a bit, because you will be under scrutiny from the word go.


Like Caesar’s wife, as a leader you must be above suspicion.  It’s not enough to be fair and to treat everyone equally, you must be seen to be doing this. 


So the first casualty of your soci al life if you’ve been promoted to the Senior Leadership Team in your current school may need to be the Boys’ Nights Out or Girls’ Nights In that you had with just a few colleagues.  You just cannot afford to be seen with an “in” group who have privileged access to you, as you may be suspected of favouritism. 

I have known a lot of resentment among staff when they see a small group who are on very friendly terms with the leaders and decision-makers.  Any privileges or advantages allocated to a member of this group, and any promotions, may well be ascribed to friendship rather than to merit or need.  You might find it best to come clean and tell them that you may not be available as often as in the past, and that’s all to the good as they wouldn’t wish other teachers to think that they are sucking up to  SLT, would they?

Very close friendships, to use a euphemism, are also best kept out of school, as these can cause even more rumours and disgruntlement.  I have actually known an occasion where people were so unhappy about an intimate relationship that the Head called staff together and announced publicly that there was full justification for a recent pay rise, it had not just been awarded because the Head of Department was in an affair with the Deputy Head.  


Yep, said just that - I was there (although not one of those involved!).  You don’t want to go there.


Another big issue is confidentiality.   The staff need to know that they can trust you, that what you know about them will not be bandied around among a group of your friends over a few drinks.  Here’s where it is agood idea to take an honest look at yourself: might you become a little loose-mouthed after the third round at the pub?  Could you get a bit merry sometimes at the end-of-term party, and do a wicked imitation of the Chair of Governors on Speech Day?  Perhaps you never do, but some people are running a risk every time they agree to just one more.

One solution to the problem of socialising with staff is to fork out for the drinks and then retire.  People will often expect you to pay more anyway, as you now earn more than them.  

A group going to the pub?  You buy the first round, then leave.  

Staff party at the end of term?  You make a generous contribution to the wine table, walk around for half an hour chatting to people, then go home before any of them starts to say things that will make them cringe in retrospect to know that you overheard. 


Staff disco?  Your exit should come even earlier – you don’t wish to risk any phones capturing your attempts at jitter-bugging and then seeing yourself on Youtube.


You want to be a fair, trustworthy leader, one who can always be relied on to do what is best for students and also what is best for staff.  Remember the advice we always give to the NQTs?  You’re their teacher, not their friend.  Consider if the same now applies to you:


Be friendly, but not their friend.


Best wishes 


Meet Theo on line on the Jobseekers,  Careers Clinic and Independent Forums, where she answers jobseeking and careers queries regularly each week.