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Leadership Development, a Strategic Investment

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Developing leadership capacity is not an isolated incident, it’s a strategic investment  in the long term future of your organisation. Principals and educational leaders need to be proactive and intentional in developing leadership capacity. Strong educational leaders have the ability to identify talent. They specifically target future leaders and dedicate time and energy in providing opportunities for growth.

Over the last 3 years I have witnessed an increasing turnover of senior leadership across the education sector. Given that, in the last 2 years 1000 of the 2219 NSW Public School Principals are either new or new to their school and there is an estimated 50% replacement over the next 3 years of the 10000 cross sectorial Principals Australia wide we are facing a time of unprecedented leadership change. Principals across the globe face higher levels of pressure than ever before with increased societal and political demands and greater scrutiny on performance, the job is challenging and complex and requires the right type of leaders.


Investing in leadership provides dividends.

If you asked Principals worldwide how many felt prepared for their job prior to entering the principalship I’d be surprised if more than 30% felt ready or adequately prepared for the challenge. The question has to be asked what are you doing to develop the next generation of leaders at your school? How many schools have leadership preparation programs in place to support their aspiring leaders?

One of the challenges for leaders when they are developing others is finding the right person. Sometimes we look for people who have so many similarities to our leadership style that we run the risk of developing a clone not a new leader. At best this is a replacement plan not a succession plan. A succession plan identifies talent and strategically grooms for the future rather than immediate turn over. Aspiring leader programs should be mid to long term specifically developing skills and capabilities and providing targeted opportunities for development.

Providing the right environment and conditions for our aspiring leaders is crucial. We must create opportunities to learn where they feel safe to take appropriate educational risks for student and staff benefit. Imagine a circus acrobat learning a new trick without a safety net, very few would take the risk, especially after the first acrobat makes a mistake. I’m not suggesting that we provide no guidance and allow education risk taking behaviour without any evidence or rationale to support the initiative. On the contrary I believe targeting and guiding aspiring leaders into specific areas helps establish informed and calculated education decision making.

At times it can be difficult to stretch our aspiring leaders out of their comfort zones and look for new opportunities as it is their current skill set that has served them well to this point. This is the skill set they rely on when they encounter new situations. The same can be said for giving aspiring leaders the same types of tasks repeatedly. To grow, aspiring leaders need new and challenging opportunities. There are also the aspiring leaders that we need to temper. This can be a difficult situation for a Principal as we don’t want to curb the enthusiasm.  In both cases I believe Principals should ask questions rather than provide answers. We have the ability to use our experience to provide alternative scenarios that can expand ideas and develop and mould our future leaders in a supportive yet challenging environment. As Principals we have a responsibility to provide experiences for our aspiring leaders that develop their skill sets. We must provide feedback and allow them to examine their decisions and actions and place a critical lens over how they would or would not conduct that task if faced with it again.

As leaders we need to understand that at times you need to coach and at others you need to mentor. Coaching allows you to guide aspiring leaders through processes that you have encountered before, where you are developing their skill set in routines and systems, it is very much task orientated. Mentoring on the other hand challenges and increases capacity, it allows for career and personal development, it develops the leader as a person. Both situations though have times when they place aspiring leaders in their stretch zone and add a degree of stress. Aspiring leaders won’t learn to deal with stress unless they are working through challenging situations. These challenging experiences require them to “ride the wave”. They need to understand that in stressful situations tasks can seem insurmountable but careful planning and working through your process logically will see you on the other side of the wave. This ability to overcome obstacles and stressful situations is critical in developing their capacity to succeed.

As a Principal you must be honest with aspiring leaders and assist them to develop their areas of weakness. It does the aspiring leader no favours if you embellish their achievements. Developing strength of character is a critical factor in today’s everyone’s a winner world. To be able to take on-board constructive advice even if it is unpopular is essential for growth. By being honest and pinpointing areas for development you are providing a clear professional pathway. When providing feedback it is important to build in opportunities for self-reflection. These must be honest and really have the aspiring leader examine their commitment, perseverance and discipline in achieving their goals. Open, honest self-reflection about their dedication and ability to grow and change is essential for increased leadership capacity.

One area of growth for aspiring leaders that can be particularly challenging is seeing the big picture. For many their leadership journey to this point has revolved around ensuring that their grade, stage or team has been able to work effectively. Their primary leadership focus has been to successfully resource, organise and navigate a clear path for their team as a part of the bigger whole school picture. The development of a whole school focus and even greater still, a whole system focus can be quite a difficult concept. There are times when competing priorities will test their ability to guide their stage, team or grade into areas for the greater good. This is an area where Principals need to work extremely closely with their aspiring leaders to ensure a clear and consistent message is being delivered.

As Principals we must purposefully invest in our future leaders to ensure we have a pool of highly competent professionals ready to take on the next level of responsibility. I suggest once you have identified the next generation of leaders ask them the following questions.  What do you they want to achieve in the next 6 months, 12 months, 2 years? What performance measures do they have in place to keep them on track? You then need to support them as they map out a plan that fosters their development and provides appropriate leadership opportunities.

It is our responsibility as Principals to grow the next level of leaders. It’s an investment in the future. As with most good investments being wise about choice and being strategic in implementation ensures you receive a dividend on maturity. As we know, leadership requires following a path of inward and outward reflection, it’s not linear and there are obstacles along the way but the continual growth on that journey certainly makes it worthwhile. As Principals we must select carefully, invest wisely and enjoy the journey with our aspiring leaders.

1 Comment

  1. Celia Drews says:

    Well said mate. I feel certain you are selecting carefully, investing wisely, and most definitely enjoying the journey. Those you are investing in are lucky to work with one of the best.



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