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Connected OR Visible – The “Sweet Spot”

In tennis when you hit the ball in the “sweet spot” you have the most power and control. The closer you are to the sweet spot, the more control you have over the ball’s direction and the more power you have. Leadership is much the same. There is a sweet spot where we are at our most effectiveness in power and control.

There is also a sweet spot in school leaders being ‘connected’ with colleagues and ‘visible’ in their school. It is tempting to spiel on about the importance of being networked, for the sake of being in the “in” crowd. However, I believe school leaders must ensure that their primary focus is first of all, on their own backyard. I worry about the leaders who spend too much time out of their school ‘networking’. They engage in every possible networking event, professional development activity, conference or meeting. This is evident in the weeds seen sprouting through the cracks in the bitumen in the car space allocated to the “Principal”. It’s also essential that they wear their name badge whenever they are in their school, as few people would recognise them. Networking can be taken too far! If leaders are too busy outside their school, they risk losing connection with the reality of the classroom and lose connection and credibility with their staff.

Equally, I worry about the leaders who isolate themselves from their colleagues, too busy fighting bushfires at their school to participate in any professional development or attend meetings. Operating in isolation is inefficient and dangerous to your health and well-being.

As with many aspects of leadership, there is a sweet spot between being too inward looking and too ‘networked’. Being a leader is complicated. It is essential that school leaders make connections with others to share ideas, strategies and support. It is crazy to reinvent the wheel when a colleague already has a solution for our problem. However, it is also essential that we focus our efforts on our own backyard and provide the necessary support and guidance to the people we lead.

Jeff Blount in “People Follow You” makes an interesting and challenging statement about leaders. He states leaders need their people more than they need you! He further emphasises his statement by explaining that leaders get paid for what their people do, NOT for what the leaders themselves do.

Now that may be confronting and difficult for our egos to read but broadly speaking, I believe that it is true of school leaders. The magic and real ‘work’ of schools takes place in the classroom and is facilitated by teachers. The KEY role of school leaders is to support and facilitate the work of teachers and help them to be the best teacher they can be.

“Through leading, managing and coaching you must create an environment in which they can develop their skills, leverage their talents and win. You must remove roadblocks so that they can get the job done. You need them more than they need you. Anything that you do that impedes their success hurts you!”

Blount, 2012, p.19Whilst this sounds like leaders aren’t valued, it is intended to highlight the importance of putting our people first. No wonder leadership is so complicated!

Whilst this sounds like leaders aren’t valued, it is intended to highlight the importance of putting our people first. No wonder leadership is so complicated!

To be effective as a school leader we need to successfully undertake a combination of three roles – leading, managing and coaching. Sometimes we need to lead by clearly communicating a compelling vision, at other times we manage (resources, budgets, timetables and facilities) to optimise learning opportunities or coach our people to refine their practice and achieve their potential. I found the following definitions to be helpful.

Leading is shaping the workplace through vision, innovation and inspiration. It is moving people emotionally to make that vision a tangible reality.

Managing is shaping work, projects, tasks and outcomes through a system of organising, planning and directing.

Coaching is the ongoing process of shaping and developing people through training, observation, feedback and follow up – in real time and on the job.

Blount, 2012

It isn’t a matter of choosing which ONE you want to do. As leaders in schools we need to demonstrate and be proficient in all three. The ratio of each will vary depending on your role, the size of the school and the area of focus at this particular time of the day.

To hit the ‘sweet spot’ of leadership it is essential that we are clear about our role, acutely aware of the reality and challenges that our teachers face and harness the potential of our network to efficiently identify research based solutions that add value.