Ref lection may be the key to coping with area reviews

4th December 2015 at 00:00
In the face of major upheaval, leaders need to make time for considered judgements and share best practice

Nothing tests leadership mettle more than widespread, potentially disruptive, organisational change – and that is precisely what the current area reviews herald. As the director for leadership at the Education and Training Foundation, I am focused on what support the sector’s leaders need in the short- and long-term, for themselves and their teaching and support staff.

Naturally, that makes me reflect on how I would feel as a leader in a college: what approach would I take and what support would I need?

I’m able, as a college governor, to at least put myself in the toe of those shoes: leadership nowadays doesn’t just mean at executive level. On the contrary, area reviews require the even more active involvement of the thousands of volunteer non-executive leaders in colleges.

Governors, and notably chairs and clerks, are being asked to play a bigger role and make decisions more significant than many that have gone before. I am well aware of the challenges ahead and I also know that leaders nationwide will face those challenges with care and passion.

Leaders need insight

But what is also needed in each and every leadership challenge is perhaps time for reflection and insight in equal measure. Both are intangible, granted, but arguably good leadership is too. You don’t see good leadership taking place, but you feel the positive effect.

For governors, their time commitment in the nitty-gritty of new specialisation plans or the minutiae of data will only be stretched further with area reviews, yet the time taken to reflect and share will be vital.

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but I’m not sure. Curiosity is one of the attributes I feel is most needed in an effective leader. The other is tenacity. But these are loaded terms – curious about what? The future but not the here and now? Is tenacity a positive thing if it means you can’t let go? Does “grit” capture this quality better?

Then again, who knows? With the pace of change in our sector, maybe tomorrow I’ll feel that, instead, it’s patience and optimism that are most needed, or a shift from operational to strategic, and back again.

But however you define the attributes and whichever leadership model you subscribe to, the reality is that I already see strong leadership across the sector.

‘True grit’

I see resilience and grit, combined with strategic consideration and operational nous. It is this leadership that has ensured the successful progression and employment of thousands of students in so many different industries and jobs. But there is more change ahead, so one role the ETF will play is providing that space for reflection and for sharing and developing better practice.

Other industries face multi-faceted leadership conundrums too; we must bring that learning into FE, which can only be healthy.

Across a sector as diverse as ours, where providers range in size, leaders in background and students in motivation, the leadership support we provide will be equally diverse. It will be inclusive so that the leadership cadre across the sector reflects the students and employers served.

Healthy detachment

Finally, focusing on the importance of passionate detachment is for me a particular golden nugget in one approach to strategic leadership. This is going to be vital in the area review process; we know leaders have the passion, as they are working in a sector all about the progression and achievement of people through skills and training. Detaching themselves – ourselves – from that in order to navigate an area review and see a bigger picture could be the key to success and to thriving through yet more change.

Olivia Dorricott is director for leadership, management and governance at the

Education and Training Foundation

Show your curiosity

Five ways to find time for curiosity and reflection during the area reviews process:

Invest in time out of the office with peers and friends across the sector, including those in other areas.

Read about leadership challenges and solutions in other sectors – ie, health, prisons, business.

Remember physical and mental needs – exercise, food, sleep and relaxation time.

Schedule carefully, with time for reflection, time for a discussion with a coach, time for strategic planning, and time for a chat with new students.

Identify those meetings you can give someone as a development opportunity – there’s surely at least one…

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