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Grab the Opportunity with Both Hands

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“If you wait til you’re ready, you’ll never be ready”, these are the words of advice from a former Director who encouraged me to enter the principalship. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That’s generally the case when we look at taking on the next layer of leadership. Those who support us and develop us know when we are ready usually before we do. This year, I encourage all potential leaders to seriously consider taking that next step. To back their skill set and grab the opportunity with both hands.

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Back your skill set and grab the opportunity 

No one ever feels ready to take on a new role. You always question yourself. How many will look at a criteria and find the 1 thing they can’t do as opposed to the 5 they can do. Remember that there are elements that you will learn whilst in the role. You would not have got to this point in your career if you did not have the skill set or capability to learn and grow. Alleviate that uncertainty by committing to the role and working hard to acquire new skills. Very few leaders are experts across all areas. Successful leaders know how to find the information out, they know how to locate the knowledge base, the policy, the expert or relevant directorate to get detailed and accurate advice. You too will grow in your new role just as you have in your current one. Focus on what you can bring to the role rather than the learning ahead.

Whilst I believe firmly in seizing the opportunity when it arises, I also believe that just because the next position opens up it does not mean you should take it. You have to do your homework. Is it the right place for you? Can you add value to the programs, structures or initiatives? It is important to learn a little bit about the next environment and ensure that your skill set is compatible. Think closely about what your aspirations are and how they align to the role in this setting. What are you looking for at this level? Will there be opportunities to grow? Doing your homework will allow you to make an informed decision about your next career move and position you well to grab the opportunity when it arises.

Once you have taken that leap and secured your next leadership position prepare yourself to be challenged and commit to it. Your new leadership role will test you, it will test you professionally and emotionally. You will probably question your ability to do the job, but how you handle this self-doubt will help shape how you grow in your role. You will have to be prepared for change and possible resistance. This is an inevitable part of leadership and despite your skill set and level of experience, it will challenge you. This is when you have to use your emotional intelligence to navigate and work with your team. Knowing when to talk and when not to, when to negotiate and when to stand firm is contextual. Laying the foundation of developing relationships and getting to know your staff will be crucial in guiding your judgement here. Take time to get to know your new context, observe and listen carefully in order to understand your staff dynamics. Understanding the roles, responsibilities and personalities of staff will assist you greatly in challenging times.

When you take up that new leadership role you want to make a positive impression, however, it’s difficult to lead if you have a need to be liked. Some people aren’t able to lead because of this. I highly encourage you to make positive respectful connections but it can’t cloud your judgement. There will be times when you will need to make tough decisions that could be unpopular. Many leaders lose a great deal of sleep over this. You do everyone a disservice when you give into your feelings and don’t make the right decision, or take the soft option. You will never please everybody, you know this. Don’t be rushed into making decisions, think them through, look at them from different viewpoints and do what is in the best interests of the students. Remember it’s okay to change your mind, it just shows that you’re human. Admitting that you have made a mistake rather than blaming others will help build trust and shows your integrity, it also helps foster this in others. People are fairly forgiving when they know you are making decisions for the right reasons.

Being self-aware and knowing your areas of strength and areas of development will be one of your biggest leadership challenges in a new role. For many of us as we enter leadership positions our self-awareness usually focuses on criticism, on highlighting our weaknesses. You will need to work beyond this and focus on what you need to do rather than what you should have done. A positive outlook will energise you, whereas focusing on the negative can be emotionally draining. Think of the high energy level and sharp focus you have when you are developing new ideas and compare this to the lack of motivation and that sinking feeling you have when things don’t work out as planned. Working on solutions is the best way forward.

This year I encourage you to embrace that opportunity. To set your goal and work towards it. Is it the right time? Will there ever be a right time? If not now, when? Someone has seen leadership qualities in you. It’s time to step up, believe in yourself and grab that opportunity with both hands.

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