These were the questions I scrawled on a ‘what do you want to learn from today’s CPD session’ starter activity. Fairly philosophical questions, as questions go. I think if any of my students stated these as questions for any one of my lessons… I’d probably have to admit defeat! Fortunately, this particular CPD session would be helping me to address this question and I didn’t get full answers but, in short, if you don’t want to read on- complex and yes…I think!
As soon as I learnt that my interview had gone well for my new post; after the tears and the excitement, came terror.
I had not the faintest clue how I could become a ‘leader.’ I was stood in a place where I perceived the leap to be far from where I was currently at. Who was ‘Hannah the manager’? What did she look like? What would she say? How would she behave? Was she allowed to make mistakes? Could she still act silly sometimes?
These questions were racing even harder and faster through my mind when a colleague invited me into the start of his lesson. He wanted some tips and ideas from me as he’d worked with me previously and valued my input.
He teaches on a foundation degree in leadership and management and I found the short space of 20 minutes flying by. Although I was focused on note-making and feedback creation for him, I couldn’t help but ask myself the same questions he was posing to his students:
– How would I cope under pressure?
– How could I lead change?
– How would I work with a wide range of staff effectively?
I left even more fearful of the long and, in places, treacherous journey that lay ahead for me. I am one who loves learning and I am aware that with any learning comes a journey and perhaps more significantly, with any journey comes learning. I haven’t even ‘officially’ started my role yet and there are many lessons learnt already. At our recent teaching & learning conference, Ben Waldram (sans Stephen Lockyer) provided some insightful tips into the world of leadership. I can only imagine the tales of leadership I might be able to regale in a few years time. Hopefully I’ll make it far enough to tell them!
A couple of weeks ago, maybe even less (only a teacher truly knows how time can fly about us like some kind of whirling dervish), all attendees of the leadership programme were asked to complete an online questionnaire that we used to rate ourselves. You know the type. There were 4 statements for each of the questions- we had to give one answer the label of ‘most’ and another of ‘least’. The final two answers were to be rated somewhere between one and five. I went through the motions; expecting a report that would shovel me into the introverted and quietly productive box and I’d carry on without gain.
How wrong could I have been?
The session was fantastic, the report incredibly accurate and I left with far more insights into myself than I ever could have anticipated.
As we read our report, we were asked to mark anything we agreed with and those that we didn’t. I went for the following system:
Double tick- strongly agree
Single tick- agree
Star- not so sure about
(that’s the ‘thorough’ part of me emerging).
The opening line of my report read:
‘Hannah is conscientious (double-tick) and responsible (double-tick) and accepts being needed by others (short thinking time and then yes, double-tick). She may underestimate herself and either takes anything she does well for granted, or regards it as no great achievement at all (double tick, double tick, double tick).
I was sold. This thing was freakishly accurate and although extremely cynical before; this was certainly fading fast.
To save you from reading the whole thing, I’m going to note just some of the things I felt were accurate:
- ‘Hannah will go to great lengths in order to fulfil her sense of responsibility and obligation.’
- ‘Her sense of duty may make her appear rather serious at times.’
- ‘She tends to be disinterested in subjects for which she sees no practical application.’
- ‘She has high qualitative expectations of herself and may express disappointment if she is unable to perform to these standards for any reason.’
- ‘Hannah is content to work by herself without much control or supervision.’
- ‘Hannah tends to build close, low-key relationships with a small number of associates in the work environment.’
- ‘Displaying modesty and reserve, she is a very warm person who tends not to show that warmth except with people she knows and trusts.’
- ‘She may have a tendency to repress anger. While appearing to agree with others, she may internally disagree, using passive strategies to release her tensions.’
- ‘Above all, she is concerned with what is “right” and because of this may appear slow in the decision making process.’
- ‘She may tend to be misunderstood because of her tendency not to express herself forcefully.’
And things I was less certain about:
- ‘Easy-going’ (more accurately translated as- will worry about our very existence and then worry about worrying about our very existence and further to this, worry about worrying about worrying!)
- ‘Believes in a philosophy of “live and let live.” (this is laughably inaccurate!)
- ‘She is a pillar of strength in the home, at work, and in her community.’
So overall, in a summary of my report, it’s probably about 98% accurate according to my currently level of self-awareness. Pretty good going for a machine, although I’m certain that at some point, a whole bunch of my family and colleagues just got bundled in a room and each wrote a few statements about me. No computer involved at all.
I have essentially been rated a ‘green’ person. This is because the majority of statements relate to the people focus that I have. I was on the introverted side of the wheel and on the feeling half. My next preference is blue, with yellow falling further behind and red as my lowest preference. There were a lot of other theoretical aspects to the report, some of which I understand and some that I’m still working through. Even though we were told not to think of ourselves as a colour, I have now been asked my 6 other managers- ‘So, what colour are you?!’ I kept having to correct everyone but it was futile; every human loves a good box to place someone into!
We are all made up of different levels of these colours and they each indicate individual aspects of your personality and behaviours. Interestingly, because I struggle to work with very ‘red’ people, I have already placed that in the ‘bad’ pile, when in fact; I need a little more red in my life! I have come up with some rather crude translations for each colour and until I receive a full set of notes from the day, I don’t think I can generate a clearer picture than this:
Green- people and emotions focused
Blue- data and facts driven
Red– strong-willed and independent
Yellow- outgoing and sociable
Do not be lead too much by these over-simplified descriptions- the colours are FAR more complex than this. I usually would have taken copious notes but the presence of other managers in the room not doing the same, stopped me. Lesson learnt- don’t follow what other managers do, just because they’ve been managers longer than you.
Handle with Care
The report is full of information about how I am best dealt with and I’m going to list some of the keys dos and don’ts here. We were told we should share it with colleagues and perhaps our own manager but I’ll be gradually working with everyone in the College at some point (hopefully!) so this information is possibly useful to a lot of people (possibly not my blog-reading public but hey-ho, I’m doing my usual ‘reflective’ thing). I think I might make some kind of poster of these and wave it in people’s faces- a little aggressive? Hmmm… Perhaps I’m more red than I thought!
When communicating with Hannah, do:
- Give her time to express herself.
- Maintain a consistent, personal relationship with her.
- Adapt a low key, positive approach.
When communicating with Hannah, do not:
- Shout, bully or threaten with position power.
- Put her ‘on the spot’ in front of others.
- Labour the point or give lengthy verbal instructions.
- Meetings with strict agendas and timetables.
- Interactions with people that understand that the relaxed, calm exterior is disguising a maelstrom of concerns and ambitions.
- To be a key player in a small but successful team.
- Responsibilities which capitalise on her one-to-one supervisory or mentoring strengths.
- Colleagues who understand that she kicks herself harder (occasionally too hard) and more often than anybody else when things go wrong.
- Safe opportunities to develop untried or previously suppressed skills.
I perceive the best leaders around me are ones who know exactly we how to speak to me, when to push me and what kind of tasks to give me (that’s not from my report, that’s from the actual, conscious me). I admire them greatly. Their ability to read a person or a situation and know exactly how to respond appropriately each and every time is something I can’t wait to develop. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all able to deal with one another in exactly the right way, every single time?!
The report detailed who my opposite type was and how I should best deal with them. Essentially these are people whose dominant colour is red. It may not apply to every red person; I certainly know of a lot of red people with whom I can work very well. I personally think that I can work less well with a very yellow person as their extraversion intimidates me and squashes all of my positive qualities; I immediately feel inferior.
The dealing strategies such as ‘keep it brief and to the point’ and ‘bring proof and evidence of performance’ and ‘ask for her advice’ are all the things I need to try and bear in mind to make the most of my exchanges with these individuals. When my interactions are bad with one of these people, I tend to experience them as, ‘cold, blunt and over-bearing’, ‘take charge types’ and ‘disorganised’. This isn’t because of who they are necessarily, just of how our two traits can clash.
My dealing strategies in working with my suggested opposite type are:
Don’t let him/her dominate the conversation.
Don’t “fudge” the issue or waffle.
Don’t be vague or leave things open to interpretation.
I think these are certainly things for me to work on!
Hannah may benefit from:
- Maintaining a greater balance between her feeling and her objectivity.
- Resisting the urge to continually refine, improve and even do the work of others.
- Questioning the motives of others.
Some things I may need to have a heightened awareness of in my leadership:
- I may criticise members of my team indirectly, rather than facing problems head on.
- Decides quickly in areas she feels comfortable, but procrastinates in those where she feels vulnerable.
- Being a little too generous and understanding when others fail to perform.
- Allowing team members with a stronger personality to “rule the roost.”
- Placing too much trust in the motives of others.
What couldn’t have been stated any clearer by our fantastic facilitator, was that the report doesn’t suggest that all our ‘deficit’ areas and weaknesses should be dealt with or changed but perhaps we need to increase the capacity of some of our weaker areas at times or at least have an awareness of our weaknesses.
The chicken or the egg or perhaps the emu?
I suppose part of my original cynicism still exists or perhaps I’m thinking how to justify my positivity about the report but my mind is turning to chickens and eggs… And even more confusion besides. What came first- the feelings about myself or the report? ie. Is the report accurate because it represents what I know to be me? Is the report accurate because it fits with what I THINK is me? Will I think the things it has said true of myself because the report said so? Or will I only think it true of myself because it genuinely is?
I’m fully aware that circumstances and environment heavily affect a person, in fact, the report details my perfect working environment and what others could try to create for me. Now I see a lot of that environment reflected in the College I currently work at. Since stepping through the doors on the day of my interview, the College has synchronised seamlessly with my own morals and values relating to education (a separate post for another day). It provides somewhere for me to be me- and to be trusted to do a good job. Had I done this report when working at my previous College, would the report have come out differently? Perhaps. Who knows? Has my environment influenced the results or was it just my personality that influenced the results? But how far has my personality been influenced by my present environment? I am a young person. Refer to me as young and you may well get a mouthful as I’ll be on the defensive about it. I’m slowly approaching the big 3-0 but in the grand scheme of things, I can admit, in this safe, written down form, that I’m still young. I’m concerned that I may become too reliant on the report- that it will inherit the power to dictate who I am and what I’m about. I’m almost sure that it won’t but what if it does? I haven’t stopped thinking about my own traits and others’ behaviours since the report was shared and it is certainly leading a lot of my current thinking. That kind of deep reflection can only be a good thing.
In my usual blogging style, I have no idea how to end this post. I know that it isn’t just about chickens and eggs; I should be thinking about emus, alligators and snowmen too. We’re all complex beings and we can be very difficult to be with at times. If I bear that in mind then it won’t matter what colour I display or what colour someone else happens to be. We’ll both just ‘be’. Now, let’s see if that’s what will end up happening…
Today, the 1st of August, marks the first day of my contract as ‘Learning and Development Manager’, which is why I chose to finally post this reflection today. I re-read Tom Bennett’s post on ‘the fear’ this week as I can’t think of another piece of writing that has resonated with me more since the start of my teaching career. I guess it’s my ‘easy-going’, ‘live and let-live’ attitude but the loudest thought in my mind today is that I’m worried about just being me. What if I’m not enough?