As Headteachers we want to be happy, engergized, creative and supportive leaders. This can be a real challenge when we feel mentally and physically exhausted. I often liken the experience of headship to being on a hamster wheel. We climb on and start moving at a steady pace, initially the wheel moves beautifully and we feel we have made a great start. However, as time passes, more happens and we start moving faster. Before we know it the wheel starts to pick up pace, though now its movement starts to feel more uncontrollable. If the pace intensifies the wheel gathers its own momentum, and if we can’t keep up we literally get thrown off.
One of our greatest challenges in leadership is that while we are so busy ‘doing’ we rarely have or make the time to stop and question what it is we are actually doing and whether we are doing these things in the best way. Continuous running at pace on the hamster wheel of headship can lead to burn-out.
Having coached many headteachers I have three simple strategies which have been effective in enabling leaders to create a more manageable pace on their hamster wheels. These strategies have enabled headteachers to find more energy, be more productive and bring more happiness into their daily routines.
Firstly, step off the wheel. Create personal time for reflection.
I cannot iterate how important this is. It seems to be the part of our planned week that falls off the bottom of our to-do list. Creating the time and space for reflection isn’t a ‘to do’. It is a ‘must do’. Figuratively stepping off the hamster wheel and finding quality time to get some perspective on what is working well and those areas that are causing you frustration, will enable you to refine and improve your actions. The space for reflection should be one that is uninterrupted, structured in a way that works best for you and is a high priority.
Secondly, start to question your thinking.
Our continual self-talk connects our conscious thoughts with our unconscious beliefs and biases. It is an effective way for our brains to interpret and process our daily experience. However, human nature is prone to negative self-talk (our inner critic), making unhelpful sweeping assertions like “I haven’t got the time!” or “I am a such a failure at this!”. Questions can be a powerful tool to manage our inner critic and to find focus on new and different solutions. Ask yourself: Does my inner critic speak the truth? How are these assumptions serving me? What would I be like if I didn’t have those thoughts? The brilliance of asking yourself these question is that they prompt the brain to contemplate a behaviour, which increases the probability that it will be acted upon. If we learn to challenge our assumptions and focus on solutions we can always ensure better outcomes.
Lastly, practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself.
We are caring and compassionate for our pupils and staff, but how often do we send ourselves home early after a stressful day? We need to practice what we preach. We need to adopt self-kindness, where our reality is accepted with sympathy, rather than stressing over the things that have not worked out. Whoever said we had to be perfect? We need to accept our human-nessand that our personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience, we should not expect ourselves or anyone else to be super-human.
Just using one of these strategies can be really powerful. Using all three will make a real difference to your hamster wheel. They can be achieved successfully on your own but their effectiveness can be enhanced when shared with a trusted colleague or professional coach. If you would like to explore these and other strategies or ask more about how coaching could support you as a leader contact leonie@thethinkingacademy and book a complimentary session.