One of the most daunting aspects of school leadership is making decisions that will impact on the lives of your students and colleagues. When you realise that the buck stops with you, indecision can become paralysing, but I would advise you to instead feel empowered by the opportunity to move your school forward.
Difficult decisions can come at any point in the school year. They could be technical issues about the curriculum, such as making complex funding decisions to ensure that your school is providing the right level of support for all subjects. Or they could be practical day-to-day staffing decisions about who to recruit and the kind of training and development that you offer.
It can be difficult to know where to start when making such decisions. I began my commercial career as a financial analyst and, with this background, have always started by evaluating the options in front of me. That ability to question, interrogate and re-examine the facts and figures is key to making an informed decision.
I believe that these skills can be developed. But you also need to test your basic intuition in order to make clear-sighted decisions. It is crucial that you hear arguments from all sides and are prepared to change your mind.
If you haven’t yet had opportunities to take on decision-making responsibilities in your role, seek them out. If it is your ambition to lead a school, you need to become as comfortable as possible with the process. Taking responsibility for literacy or the pupil premium, for example, could give you the chance to lead at a whole-school level and get to know how you manage difficult decisions when they come your way.
Leadership development tools are also a useful way to better understand your preferences, where your current limits are and how you process information. Tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Belbin test can help to identify your strengths, weaknesses and preferences, and how they complement those of your team.
Conducting an in-depth and honest appraisal of your leadership style will help you to be a stronger leader. The self-knowledge that comes with awareness of what leadership tasks are easy for you and which tasks require more effort will help you to feel more confident in your decision-making. And remember, this is a starting point for growth; not a fixed state.
Leaders cannot be scared of making decisions – indeed, indecision can be more dangerous than taking the next step forward. You should enjoy taking that level of responsibility but also be humble in realising that your decisions will impact others.
It is vital, therefore, that you actively seek out the experiences, development opportunities and peer feedback to prepare yourself for that responsibility when it comes.
Jacqueline Russell is the acting chief executive of the Future Leaders Trust