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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hind

The practices of leadership

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Three of my favourite words, when placed together, are ‘clarity precedes competence’ and this is never more true than when we consider leadership. Leadership must be one of the most highly observed, but least understood phenomenon. I would go as far as to say that many leaders don't understand the job.

Let's start at the beginning and ensure that every designated leader, in our schools, understand one vital aspect

Being successful as a leader IS NOT the same as engaging in successful leadership.

Being a LEADER is a ROLE ... Engaging in LEADERSHIP is a PROCESS.

It is important that all our leaders understand and appreciate this fundamental difference although, inevitably, there will be an overlap between the two.

Clarity precedes competence. So, let's add further clarity.

  • Being a successful leader requires the demonstration of a key set of competencies…to a high level of competence

  • Engaging in successful leadership requires the skilful participation in a key set of practices…to a high level of effectiveness

Put simply...Leader = competencies Leadership = Practices

If we can accept and appreciate the differences between the two, we can then begin to drill down further and gain greater clarity.

Being a successful leader requires the demonstration of a variety of competencies which may differ depending on the specific role. For example, a few of the competencies required to be successful as a Head Teacher might be slightly different to the competencies required to be successful as a subject leader. However, they may be LESS DIFFERENT than we might automatically assume. Whatever competencies we decide are essential for success, they are likely to fall under four sub-headings:

Leadership Knowledge

For example, a successful subject leader will need to demonstrate strong subject knowledge

Leadership Skills

For example, a successful Deputy Head might need to demonstrate effective questioning skills

Leadership Behaviours

For example, a successful team leader might need to take time, at the end of the week, to sit down and write out their reflections on the actions they have taken

Leadership Attitudes

For example, a successful Head Teacher might need to demonstrate a growth leadership mindset and a passion for wanting to get better.

We must make sure that every designated leader is clear about, and fully understands, the competencies for success. However, before we can identify the essential competencies required to be successful as a leader, we must first be clear of the primary role of the leader. Most leaders have many responsibilities, but what is their primary role? What, for the leaders in your school, is their core purpose? Has this been discussed and agreed?

For me, the primary role of a leader is to ensure the continual improvement in the performance of those they leader...and themselves. Leadership is a relationship that results in improvement. a school, have you agreed on the primary role of the leaders and have you identified a core set of leadership competencies that are essential for success...based on the primary role?

Leadership as a set of practices

Now we need to consider the essential practices of leadership. Leadership involves a set of practices that need to be studied and learned by every leader in the school...every leader, including the Head Teacher, the Deputy Head and all other leaders. How are you creating suitable opportunities for every leader to study and learn these practices? Which processes have you designed to create suitable time and space for the learning of these practices?

If schools are to function with high-leadership capital, they need to have created a clear leadership framework which underpins a carefully structured leadership curriculum which, in turn, engages leaders in the study of the leadership practices.

An possible example of a leadership practice - To create and communicate a vision that inspires.

The above practice is complex...highly complex. We expect our leaders to simply demonstrate this practice without offering them the opportunity to learn how to overcome the complexities involved. A leader who is creating and communicating a vision must be able to ask themselves, and answer, 5 'Can I..' questions. These questions are about leadership accountability and ensure thought has been given to the whole process.

Example - Can I convey a clear incentive to all involved?

If a leader has a vision, they will often articulate it to those they lead rather than communicating it. There is a difference...a significant difference.

So...this is just one practice for successful leadership but what, for you, are the others? Has your school agreed on a set of essential leadership practices? Have you designed a leadership curriculum that ensures every leader has clarity around these practices and has regular opportunities to study and learn these practices?

With the exception of the actual quality of classroom practice, it is leadership that has the biggest impact on pupil outcomes in any school.

How would you rate the depth of leadership capital in your school?

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