We often think about leadership in the context of an individual being able to lead and influence others. When we look at politicians, world leaders and the media’s projections of what ‘they’ think it means to be a leader, the image often portrayed, is that of the individual who commands authority and respect from others. The assumption is that because he or she has the ability to display these characteristics, others will automatically follow their direction. However, to me, leadership is more than just about getting others to follow your lead.
True leadership must begin with a strong sense of self. Leaders must be able to lead themselves first before they can expect to effectively lead others. This is important, because the challenges of leadership are huge! The tests that leaders face often reach to the very core of who they are. If as individuals, leaders do not have a profound sense of their values and what they mean, they will have nothing to anchor themselves to, when the storm clouds gather.
A leader that is anchored to their values will know how to use them to make the right decisions – in both the good and the bad times.
They understand how remaining connected to their values will help them to remain to true to themselves. They understand that their values are in many respects their own personal lighthouse and that if they follow them steadfastly they reduce the risk of their leadership ever hitting the rocks.
Whatever the sector one is leading in, one cannot escape the fact that as a leader, when the challenges come, very often you will be caused to question the very essence of who you are and what you stand for.
I was taught this lesson early on in my teaching career. The school to which I had just been appointed Deputy Headteacher was in a deprived inner city area in South London and had just failed an OFSTED inspection. After the pupils found this out, a young boy, one of the brightest in our school, came up to me and said, ‘Ms Grant, are we failures then?’ Not only did his comment break my heart, but it also touched something very deep inside of me, about who I was and what my role should be as a leader. I knew that if, as a Deputy, I was going to make a real and lasting difference to his life and the lives of other children in that school,then I was going to have to be a leader, who not only talked the talk, but walked the talk as well. So within less than a year, I found myself leading the school as its Headteacher. It was by no means an easy path to success, but my values helped me to stay the course, particularly through the tough and difficult times.
Now as Director of Integrity Coaching, I help leaders to see that leadership is about having your values aligned with who you are and how you want to show up in the world. It is not about having an easy life. In fact, from my experience, more often than not it is about making life better for others. However, when you are able to lead in this way, with your values at the forefront of all that you do, it sometimes seems nothing short of a miracle, that in seeking to help others be their best self, you the leader, set yourself on the path to becoming your best self too!
Viv Grant is founder of Integrity Coaching and a former successful primary School Headteacher. Viv has faced many challenges throughout her career and understanding the difficulties faced by Headteachers spurred her to set up a leadership development company, Integrity Coaching in 2008. She quickly built a reputation as a leading coaching company for BME aspiring leaders in education and other related fields. Viv has worked with teachers and senior leaders to devise transformative approaches to personal and organisational development. She has been instrumental in enabling many senior leaders to overcome the stresses of being a leader and to put in place strategies for maintaining a greater work life balance whilst increasing both their levels of personal and professional effectiveness. Case studies of Viv’s work with school leaders can be found in a new book, ‘Mentoring and coaching in schools; collaborative professional learning enquiry for teachers.’