First know thyself, then aim for greatness

13th June 2008 at 01:00
I was recently involved in writing and giving a workshop for aspiring headteachers at the invitation of the Education and School Improvement Service
I was recently involved in writing and giving a workshop for aspiring headteachers at the invitation of the Education and School Improvement Service. The theme was Aiming High: Career Awareness.

Clearly it is important to support the enthusiastic and capable school leaders of the future, even if we are only just waking up to such a way of thinking.

First, any wannabe head needs to understand how they would personally adapt to new roles, a transition that takes them out of their normal comfort zones. They need to recognise and conquer their fears.

I firmly believe that what is needed in an initial workshop-type session is not a plethora of functional leadership models and management theory. Rather, the first goal for each delegate should be to understand themselves better.

Aspiring heads must first identify what is important to them so that they don't compromise what they believe in, and be aware of how to learn from experience and seek out meaning in adversity.

I remember a conversation with a successful young secondary head who had been asked many times how he had got to where he was in his career. His answer was always the same: "I'm not sure I know that, but I do know that I do what I think is right on a daily basis. In interviews I simply tell the truth, say what I think, and am able to provide evidence."

This can be achieved by individuals identifying personal motivations and values, by examining what impact they currently have in their organisation, and then recording and providing the evidence.

This activity inevitably leads to an initial and honest appraisal of both the individual's technical and professional competencies. However, what is generally overlooked by individuals who do not attend workshops or receive any form of coaching is an examination of organisation issues, not themselves - for example, management competencies, leadership behaviours and personal "enabling" behaviours relating to effective communication with others.

Also, too often people try to go it alone. One of the top five reasons why people fail to reach their career goal is that they give up too early. While most of us like to think of ourselves as persistent, the truth is that we often give up just before we're about to have a breakthrough.

If we understand our personal motivations and values, then it is far harder to give up. Workshops should encourage peer support, networking and the forging of both formal and informal relationships - an integral part of successful career planning.

Future school leaders need constantly to ask themselves what activities they should engage in as they aim for the top.

Andy McCann is a former assistant head and now director of AMCAN consultancy and training.

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