The 7 Deadly Leadership Sins

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How many are your bosses committing?

Well-being is never off the front pages at the moment and that’s a good thing. But one major source of stress for teachers that doesn’t seem to get much coverage, is poor leadership and management.

If your senior management team are clueless, helpless and spineless, then this impacts massively on the well-being of the staff… and the whole school.

You might have a decent set of colleagues who you get on well with, but if one or more of your senior leaders is weak then cracks appear everywhere.

What’s your boss like?

We have all worked with incompetent managers. It’s highly likely that you are working with one now. They seem to pull at the fabric of the school, picking threads, making holes, and causing misery.

Here’s the thing. Many of them are actually nice people but in the wrong job. It’s important to separate what they do in school and divorce this from their ‘personhood’. Underneath it all, they have families, personal problems and pressures like everyone else. Then again, there are some that are just so downright rude and unprofessional that staff pray for OfSTED to come and do their worse.

Some people are so poorly trained for the job it beggars belief or they are simply not suited to a leadership and management position…yet. They could well be ready in another five years after more flying time in the classroom and leading a curriculum subject. It’s remarkable that some teachers occupy Phase Leader positions or Deputy posts with less than five years as a teacher leading a curriculum post. Little wonder therefore why people knock teaching as a semi-profession.

It’s Tough At The Top

It’s always easy to take a pop at senior leaders but they have responsibilities that many others don’t and it would do us all good to empathise with the workload and demands they have to cope with…for a while.

But it would also be a good idea for senior leaders to take a look at The Elephant In The Staffroom by Chris Eyre and consider what they can to to help reduce staff stress and improve their well-being. Chris talks about encountering some awful examples of leadership and management and he considers there are 7 deadly leadership sins:

The 7 Deadly Leadership Sins
  1. Not knowing staff names.
  2. Walking past people and blanking them.
  3. Not practising what they preach.
  4. Being inconsistent – what mood are they in today?
  5. Inflexibility to new ideas or argument.
  6. Lack of integrity or authenticity – playing politics.
  7. Not appearing to care.

Some of the sins listed above are pretty shocking, especially number 1 – I think this is more likely to be the case in secondary with a large staff. Even a poor leader in a primary would know the names of everyone. It is clear looking at the deadly seven, there is one toxic feature that dips its toes into most waters and it is the most important ingredient in any school: relationships. These matters more than spreadsheets. Healthy relationships, internal and external, make a wealthy school.

Managers that make a spectacular hash of relationships with their staff are doomed to failure and many end up dragging the school down in the process. Lose the respect of your staff and it is game over. The human touch of a ‘people person’ is everything and heads everywhere will tell you that the needs of humanity come first:

Iain Erskine makes the point in Brilliant Head Teacher: What you need to know to be a truly outstanding Headteacher,

Oil all the smaller cogs on a regular basis and the efficiency of the whole school’s engine will benefit.

Schools are communities and tribal in nature so the essential ingredient will always be quality relationships. It’s difficult to summarise the many qualities senior leaders must exhibit but seven of the most important leadership traits are as follows.

The 7 Leadership Must-Haves

Senior leaders must be:

  1. team builders who create and nurture strong relationships with everyone.
  2. highly-visible, omnipresent and accessible.
  3. highly consistent and fair to all.
  4. a pogo-stick player attentive to detail able to see the bigger picture while still being in the thick of things.
  5. credible, trustworthy and sincere.
  6. proactive, strategic and restless to improve.
  7. super-organised with Swiss-watch time management skills.

It’s the little things that matter and as Andy Buck says in Leadership Matters:

My own experience of working with thousands of school leaders over the years has taught me that none of us realises the impact of our own day-to-day personal behaviours and organisational skills.

Taking the time to support colleagues is what effective senior leaders spend a lot of time doing because as Andy says: “The cumulative effect of lots of small acts of kindness is immeasurable.”

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