College leaders: the heroes we need, but don’t deserve

12th October 2018 at 00:00

Bonnie Tyler was famously holding out for a hero. She had some very specific targets for him: he had to be strong, he had to be fast, and he had to be fresh from the fight.

But did she ever think about the strain that these high expectations was putting on her mystery man?

And is the assumption that the person you need is a hero helpful in any walk of life?

To mark World Mental Health Day, Stuart Rimmer, principal and chief executive of East Coast College talked about the damaging myth of heroic leadership and how it was affecting people in the sector.

“Working in a senior role in a college or any large organisation means that you are subjected to a false, ongoing narrative of heroic leadership that we as leaders keep clinging to and some staff do too.

“Some principals often ignore the warning signs. Even when not feeling psychologically at 100 per cent, college leaders are expected to be seen to be strong.”

Even college leaders who are aware of this narrative aren’t immune to its pull, he says.

“This knowledge can create a depth of understanding and approaches to care of self and others and can provide some armour plating but they are not superpowers. It’s beginning to take its toll.”

Stuart suggests five tips for college leaders who want to keep tabs on their mental health,

1. Define your self-care package.

2. Celebrate the small victories.

3. Be present and work on being focused on what’s in front of you.

4. Pay attention to the physical. Even small amounts of exercise, remembering to eat, sleep and cutting out caffeine and alcohol can help.

5. Find balance.

Stuart stresses that he enjoys his job, despite the challenges, pressures and 70-hour weeks. But, he adds, relying on that passion and goodwill is not a good long-term strategy.

“Serving as a college principal is an absolute privilege. Principals are driven, focused on delivering the best for students and staff, have a role of community influence and good leaders are essential for the ongoing survival of some of our at-risk colleges.

“But would I recommend it to a friend? Probably not.”

 

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