There are many articles, books, posts and graphics about the most important aspects of leadership. Putting all that aside, my experience in schools and on the sports field has led me to a conclusion that there are 6 key traits that a leader must posses. The absence of any 1 trait can be disastrous.
If there was a central pillar, for me it would be self-awareness. Without self-awareness leaders will never address their frailties and at worst it can lead to a toxic culture of scapegoatism. Around the leadership table, it is no use voicing an opinion to someone who thinks they are good at listening to others but instead sits their and feigns only the slightest interest at what is actually sound advice. On the football pitch, where strikers lead the line, it is no use explaining to them why their finishing lacks finesse if they believe that they are the best finisher ever to play the game. Players with this attitude will always blame someone else if they fail to score in a match.
Resilience is a term that is bandied about all the time in relation to schools and students but less so in relation to staff. Teaching is a profession where it is essential to have broad shoulders if you want to develop as a professional. The absence of broad shoulders can result in a leader crumbling under pressure at a crucial time. Disagreeing with accurate feedback can cause resentment, mutiny and ultimately cause division in teams.
Sitting in a freezing changing room, being dug out at half time for my performance by the gaffer has definitely left me battle hardened. The point here is that as long as the feedback is accurate and beneficial, it is ultimately to help someone develop. Sitting opposite someone, listening to them make comments about something you have put your heart and soul into for the last 18 months can be tough but it is necessary in terms of developing you as a leader. Sometimes a colleague just wants to provoke a more passionate response from you.
Selfishness is what comes in the absence of this pillar; an egocentric culture where leaders put their own needs above the needs of the team. Without this pillar, the needs of the team will never be considered before the needs of the individual. In schools, the higher up the ladder you climb the more important it becomes that a leader recognises that everything is their responsibility and not just the areas they line manage. It ultimately means nothing if they lead their one area well if everybody else’s areas suffer as a result. On the football field, in a high profile match, it takes a strong minded player to actually respond to the gaffer at half time and actually tell him that they are struggling. Time and time again I have watched a player who is obviously injured, carry on and ultimately cost the team the result.
Where a leader lacks emotional sensitivity the results can be catastrophic. Leading/teaching in a school is turbulent at the best of times. The emotional drain on staff can be difficult to cope with. Leaders need to be able to sense when staff are becoming overwhelmed or are at risk of burn out. A strong leader becomes emotionally attuned to their team and can detect/intervene early when things are not right. A leader who doesn’t pick up on emotional cues, ultimately puts their team’s/staff’s wellbeing at risk. There are also times when a difficult message has to be delivered in a certain way to prevent undue distress. A leader lacking in emotional intelligence could appear callous if messages are not delivered with recognition of the sensitive impact on staff.
There is a lot of noise around about which leadership style is the best. I have been through Insight’s Leadership Profiling which identifies your leadership style in relation to one of four colours. What was apparent following this session was that certain colours appeared to be seen as more desirable then others and that some colours were actually seen as a weakness. When I talk about balance, I mean the ability of a leader to be organic in responding to the needs of their team. This requires a good balance of leadership skills as different situations require very different leadership approaches. In the footballing world, a manager needs to be able to employ a range of leadership styles depending on the profile of the match or the opposition. There may be times when the team needs to be told in no uncertain terms that they need to pull their socks up but there are also times where confidence may be low and a different approach is needed. Without a good balance, leaders may be ill-equipped to deal with a certain situation.
A lack of trust means that there can never be accountability. Without accountability there will never be a team. If a leader can’t trust a member of their team then the question must be asked if they should actually be a part of their team. Successful leaders make it clear that they trust staff/players which then allows the team to contributes to a much greater shared sense of purpose. In a cup final, a manager has to trust that the players on the pitch can fulfil their individual roles to enable the team to succeed. Once those player cross the touch line, the manager can do very little to influence the game and the trust in the players has to be absolute.