Eight leadership habits and how to encourage them

Written by: Caroline Sherwood | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Ted Wragg Trust prioritises leadership development across its schools. Senior leader Caroline Sherwood describes the MAT’s eight leadership habits and how these can be encouraged

The Ted Wragg Trust was established in 2010 with the aim of creating an outstanding educational experience for all of Exeter’s children, no matter their background. An important component required to realise this ambition is developing strong leadership habits within every leader across the MAT. Across the trust, we encourage eight of these habits...

1, Be brave

Brave leadership is making right decisions, not popular ones. It is taking the right action, not the most expedient. It is being driven by, and dedicated to, fierce values.

In Brave Leadership: Seven hallmarks of truly courageous leaders (2018), Margie Warrell states that “brave leaders are bold visionaries”.

She continues: “While they may have to manage in the realm of probabilities, they lead from the space of possibilities – knowing that we fail more from timidity than over daring.”

It means always striving for gold standard, and continually looking for ways to improve. Without this, leaders cannot hope to achieve an outstanding education for all children. Brenee Brown (Dare to Lead, 2018) believes that “to scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organisations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations and whole hearts are the expectation, and armour is not necessary or rewarded”.

“We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected,” she adds.

So, to be a brave leader we must not only act courageously ourselves, but create the right conditions for the people around us to be brave.

2, Build trust

In his article, How the best leaders build trust (2019), Stephen Covey asks three pertinent questions about trust:

  • Is there a measurable cost to low trust?
  • Is there a tangible benefit to high trust?
  • How can the best leaders build trust in and within their organisations to reap the benefits of high trust?

He argues that when trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden "tax" on every transaction: “Every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.”

Having worked in the past with leaders whom I have not trusted, I can say that the cost Covey is concerned with translates to students, their outcomes and their life chances too – something that absolutely should not be “taxed”. Covey goes on to suggest 13 behaviours of high-trust leaders:

  • Talk straight
  • Demonstrate respect
  • Create transparency
  • Right wrongs
  • Show loyalty
  • Deliver results
  • Get better
  • Confront reality
  • Clarify expectation
  • Practice accountability
  • Listen first
  • Keep commitments
  • Extend trust

Only by purposefully and deliberately establishing and maintaining trust within teams, by balancing these behaviours of high-trust leaders, can we work to ensure our students are not unfairly taxed, and that we create a dividend or a performance enhancer.

3, Invest in people

Being motivated by a deep-rooted conviction that people really matter – their careers, their progression, their performance – and that people can always get better, regardless of their starting point, is crucial in order to fully commit to investing in people. However, it is my belief that leaders must be dedicated to investing in themselves too.

Dave Olsen recognises the benefits of devoting time to read. In his blog, Five reasons why all leaders are readers (2016), he states that reading elevates us above our current situation; it multiplies our experiences; allows us to spend time with smart people; builds our expertise; and is a form of escapism. Once leaders habitually look for ways to invest in themselves as leaders, and are relentless in this, then they can begin to invest in their staff.

Meanwhile, the book Action Learning for Developing Leaders and Organizations (Marquardt et al, 2009), identifies five ways to develop your staff: act as a role model; reinforce the value of learning; build sustainable processes to support development; reinforce shared values; and leverage problems as opportunities for real world learning and development. It is essential to know your team as individuals, help them to realise their ambitions, and support them to achieve this.

4, Be relentlessly positive

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour. Keep your behaviour positive because your behaviour becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi

Leaders who achieve long-lasting success are relentlessly positive. No-one wants to follow or work hard for an unpredictable, grumpy leader. Not only that, but your team will be a mirror of your attitude. Leaders have the power to build a team of positive, motivated, enthusiastic, excited staff by demonstrating these qualities themselves. The opposite is also true. Enthusiasm and positivity are contagious, but so is negativity. Negativity depletes excitement, motivation and exhausts all discretionary effort. Relentless positivity is a leader’s greatest ally.

5, Plan ahead

In Leadership Vision (2019), Susan Heathfield believes that true vision “permeates the workplace and is manifested in the actions, beliefs, values, and goals of your organisation’s leaders”.

She continues: “This vision attracts and affects every employee who is engaged in living this set of actions, beliefs, values, and goals. They want to share your vision.”

Leaders need to share a powerful, aspirational vision and organise staff to accomplish it. If they can do this, then a compelling dynamic drives performance. And that is what leaders are there for – to drive the school forward and create the conditions that will allow it.

Jon Gordon, author of the The Power of Positive Leadership (2017), has summarised it lucidly: “Leadership is all about seeing and creating a brighter and better future.”

6, Look outwards

A challenge for leaders is to maintain a holistic perspective when the pressures of everyday school keeps them looking inward. Looking inward means your concept of excellence is narrow. Working within a MAT gives leaders multiple pictures of excellence, multiple ways to improve, and a support network to see it through.

7, Create clarity

In her 2013 article, Clarity brings a leader's vision to life, Jennifer Olney says that the clarity gives direction, breeds passion, gives meaning, provides synergy, and defines focus and success. She states: “Everyone wants to be successful. The problem is that without clarity, we have no idea how we are making a difference and being successful in our value. As a leader, you need to put clarity into the bigger picture to unleash the drive within each team member to achieve their own personal success in the vision.”

8, Expect quality

Everything speaks. We cannot expect our staff to be excellent if we do not model that for them in every element of our behaviour. The Pygmalion Effect is a theory that says if you place greater expectations on people then they will achieve greater things. Pygmalion was that mythological Greek sculptor who wished his beautiful statue would come to life – and it did (see SecEd, 2014).

Or to put it another way, TS Eliot famously said: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

As school leaders, we aim to infuse excellence into every classroom, corridor and lunch hall of our school setting, so we must communicate our high expectations of our staff so they can be brilliant in all that they do.

In 13 ways to Set High Expectations in the Classroom in 2020 (Drew, 2020), the author draws on the work of Carl Rogers, who coined the term “unconditional positive regard”. The article states: "It means that we should show our students that we see them as valuable and capable at all times.”

I would argue that effective leaders see their staff as valuable and capable too, their moment-to-moment interactions delivering an empowering message: I have high expectations of you and I know you can meet them.

  • Caroline Sherwood is assistant headteacher for the quality of education at Isca Academy in Exeter, one of three primary schools, five secondary schools, and one all-through campus within the Ted Wragg Trust.

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