Leaders, you don’t have to have all the answers!

Are you the kind of leader who needs to be in control, to micromanage and build a sense of purpose by being the boss?   Or perhaps you’re the quiet lead from behind kind of person, delegate and let them figure it all out?  There is a myriad of leadership style models out there (laissez-faire, didactic, collaborative etc).   Whatever style you relate to I found my staff teams consistently seeking for me to daily fix the following issues:

IssueMy unspoken thoughts
We need more TA support staffDo I have a magic Narnia type wardrobe full of ready to go staff willing to work for free?
I need time off for my routine appointmentsDo you not have 13 weeks of time at home each year?
I cannot submit …… on time, I’m too busyDo I not have to do the same?  Have I not given you an annual calendar so you can plan ahead and meet the deadlines ?
Issues arising and my unspoken thougths

I’m sure we could all fill the grid with our own examples.   In addition, I was a daily problem solver for my team’s life problems; relationship break ups (“here’s the number of RELATE counselling”), debt problems (“here’s the contact for CAP Money course”), the cat is ill, and I can’t afford the vet bills (“let’s find a vet that provides support”).  I became a font of knowledge of everything from bereavement support to birth plans.   Where, I say to myself, is this in my job description, where was this on the NPQH course modules and why can’t staff see this invisible pressure I deal with on a daily basis when they say they are struggling with workload?

The fact is I am not the superhuman problem solver, but I realised I did not need to be.  The point about these examples and so much more is that I did not know the answers.  Even, dare I admit, answers to strategic educational problems, where I felt perhaps, I should know everything.  Admitting so was not a weakness but, as it turned out, my strength in the minds of my team and my saviour in relation to building effective team relationships and shared ownership of this roller coaster of a journey called school life.

So here are my 10 top tips for that moment when you panic and realise, ‘I don’t know what to say!’

[1] Use stock phrases to buy yourself some time, like, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I will get back you with a response later today.”  

[2] Avoid making quick fired promises in ‘corridor conversations.’  Even you are confident you know the answer, give yourself at least a minute to think it through a realise the consequences of what it is you are about to agree to.

[3] Collate a stock of helpful referral contacts for support agencies for the most common life events (the staff think you are amazing for knowing all this!)

[4] Listen, quite often you don’t need to provide a solution, they just need to know they have been heard.  Coaching them through a thought process is often enough for them to find their own next steps.

[5] Know your own non-negotiables when it comes to the vision you have laid out, flex on the routes but not the expected outcomes. 

[6] Be humble and wise by building up a network of colleagues who have skills and experience you just don’t have (yet).   Know who you can phone for advice, or even reassurance, when making a difficult decision.  This again is a sign of strong leadership and is not a weakness.

[7] Do a coaching course.  Many of us like to think we are naturally good at coaching people, but often fall into the trap of confusing this with mentoring.  If you find yourself giving away advice and answers, then the chances are you not as good a coach as you thought you were.

[8] Get an independent person to facilitate a 360 degree review of your performance as a leader.   It’s tough to hear what people really think of you as a leader but so, so helpful if can do this and follow through on point [6]

[9] Research and develop a whole school approach to problem solving.  It can be done!   I love the mind mapping approach for its visual impact and practical approach to sharing the issues and agreeing as a team what the next steps could be.

[10] Be kind to yourself and your staff.  Allow yourself to take risks and fail in order to grow and learn.  We aspire to teach the children to do this in the curriculum, but we often neglect to give ourselves permission to do the same. 

What would your top tips be, I’d love to hear them. Remember#TMOS is about defining your ‘true measures of success’ in leadership.

Till next month,



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