8 Things Good Leaders Do Best

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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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What does a good leader do best?

Research has regularly shown that good leadership is a critical part of school health but you don’t need an MBA to draw that conclusion.

In June, one of our most read blogs was all about the sins our bosses are committing. So what is good leadership?

Good leadership stands out without necessarily being outstanding. In fact, outstanding leadership isn’t sustainable so many leaders are far more realistic and satisfied with being good…which is great because that’s far more attainable.

If every teacher is a leader then every teacher should know what good leadership looks like. You’ll have a pretty good idea yourself.

Google It

If we want to know what good leadership looks like then we could just ‘Google’ it.

That’s what Google did.

In 2009, bods inside Google established Project Oxygen to find out all about being a good manager so they could build better bosses.

Their statisticians got to work and started data-mining and began analysing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints. After a year they had thousands of observations along with qualitative information from interviews and their final result was eight behaviours that the best managers did. In order of importance, they are:

1. Be a good coach.

2. Empower; don’t micromanage.

3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.

4. Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

6. Help your employees with career development.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Be a good coach

The Project Oxygen model is almost certainly applicable to other organisations including schools so we can learn a lot from the findings, particularly the number one activity: being a good coach.

Project Oxygen identify good coaching as key especially holding regular one-on-one meetings with staff, asking questions rather than dictating answers and providing constructive feedback that balances the positive and negative.

Unfortunately, Project Oxygen found that most managers spent their time engaging too much of their time and energy in the least important thing to do: technical skills. Project Oxygen also found three common manager hazards:

  1. Have trouble making a transition to the team.
  2. Lack a consistent approach to performance management.
  3. Spend too little time managing and communicating.

This helps us to take a step back and question what we are doing ourselves:

  • Are we too busy ‘doing’ and behaving as technical experts when in actual fact we should be pro-active and reaching out to others and making connections?
  • Are there too many senior leaders with technical skills but a paucity of people skills?
  • How many school leaders manage upwards, downwards and sideways?
  • How many one-to-one’s do our school leaders hold?

As a leadership activity there isn’t a more important job than having regular face to face meetings because it improves the performance of  practically every member of staff in every role. Making the connection with staff and being accessible is the key to good and great leadership.

The Top 20

According to more recent research by McKinsey, the top 20 kinds of leadership behaviour  are as follows:

Image result for decoding leadership what really matters

Image source: www.mckinsey.com

What we found was that leaders in organisations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behaviour; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organisations in terms of leadership effectiveness (see areas highlighted above).

The behaviours required to be a good manager are many and varied but people skills are absolutely key and intertwoven into the whole fabric of an organisation.

If school leaders don’t “Love their soldiers” they take a big risk with the wellbeing of their schools which is why being supportive is crucial. Unsupportive managers don’t motivate their staff although they do motivate them to leave.

Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organisational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

At the end of the day…

it comes down to how we are treated and none of this is any great surprise. When we are valued, respected, developed and loved…yes, loved…by own managers then we can all become good and great and at what we do.

What really oxygenates a school is the quality of relationships within it – that’s the real secret.

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