As a CSR initiative to support our community in these challenging times, Lane4 have been delivering ‘pro bono’ leadership development to an often-overlooked group of key workers: school leadership teams. The pressure and demands they face are incredibly high right now. Managing the anxieties of pupils, parents and staff is a real challenge. It has been our privilege to deliver both individual coaching and group workshops to a range of schools, academies and trusts to optimise their leadership at such a vital time.
In this second of our three part blog series (find the first and third here), our consultant Duncan Lewin highlights the four qualities he sees as critical for both school and key worker leadership teams in the current climate.
1. Leading with care
Much of the dialogue around schools in the media has been about operational issues: how and when children will return, how to create socially distanced classrooms, how to catch up on children’s learning. However, the emotional and psychological impact of the return to school (and indeed time in lockdown) has been huge for pupils, parents, teachers and staff. Even more than in ‘normal’ times, school leaders need to lead with care, demonstrating through their conversations, communications and actions that they understand the emotional climate everyone is facing.
This is not limited to schools, and will be relevant whether you are leading emergency services staff, supermarket workers, hospital teams or care homes. Your staff and stakeholders are running at higher stress levels than normal. It is your job as leader to acknowledge that, understand that, create forums for people to talk, and demonstrate that you hear their concerns. Only when you make people feel emotionally heard, amidst all the anxiety or uncertainty they are facing, do you have a chance of operational success.
2. Making everyone a leader
Under COVID-19, schools have been thoroughly shaken from their ‘normal’ ways of working. Teams are operating virtually, people are shielding at home whilst others may be in and overworking, while delivering services to their clients has shifted (e.g. school lessons on Teams or socially distanced classrooms).
In this space, as a leader you need to place more responsibility and trust in your teams than normal, allowing them to make decisions and preventing bottlenecks where every action needs to be approved by yourself. Get this right and your people will find innovative and novel ways to handle the situation. Get this wrong and your people will feel distant, disempowered and ultimately lose motivation.
Work provides a very important social function to our lives. It’s a chance for us to be seen, form friendships, learn and serve our communities. Don’t assume your people will connect as naturally with each other in this virtual world, particularly if they are used to being physically present in their work week like teachers are. As a leader, you need to create intentional forums for people to connect, whether that be purely social or intentionally collaborative. Given some of the Zoom/Teams/video fatigue setting in, rotate the leadership of such forums to keep bringing in new ways of energising and sparking connection.
4. Clear communication channels
Some of the school leaders we have worked with reported feeling overwhelmed by the volume of communication coming through different channels. I have also experienced this myself! Set a contract with your team around exactly how and why you will use each channel – email, Teams, Whatsapp, Yammer, etc – and ask everyone to be involved in regulating use of those channels.
You also need to role model ‘switching off’ and setting boundaries for downtime, so that your people also feel safe enough to do so, rather than being ‘always on’ to try and prove their commitment.
Although these lessons were taken from key worker teams, they certainly apply to any leader juggling the pressure of performance with maintaining wellbeing within their team. Many of the repercussions of COVID-19 will last long after lockdown has lifted, meaning that examining your leadership is still vital to organisations bouncing forwards. Take some time today to reflect on how you can action these four recommendations in your team!
To read the final post in this blog series documenting the leadership coaching our consultants have been offering in the Education sector during COVID-19, click here. Missed the first blog? Read it here.