I have been energised, this year, by the new friends and colleagues I have made within the education sector and within the field of women's leadership coaching. It has been so exciting to be surrounded by dynamic and inspirational women leaders and such a rich experience.
It feels as if many of us are rejecting old means and methods of leading our schools and our teams. Although, at times, it is like we are working within an impossible hierarchy, and a system that is on its knees, many of us are are working through this terrain creatively and so our work in turn, creates the sense of endless possibilities.
A new paradigm is emerging and the context for our work is slowly changing. As we gain confidence in our worth, more of us are making important shifts and are reconsidering the terms and conditions we feel happy to work within. Women leaders are returning to the workplace following maternity leave and deciding on more collaborative models of leadership, opting for co-headships and similar. Others of us are looking to lead across the education system in grass roots organisations, are looking to develop projects alongside our work in our schools, and so we are becoming more interested in shared leadership models for this reason.
As the context changes, so to does the way we speak about our work. Women leaders are purposefully using alternative vocabularies to populate their staff rooms, meetings and interactions with their communities. They are replacing compete and control with community and collaboration and affiliative or coaching leadership styles seem to be labels that fit much more comfortably than they ever have done in the past.
I listen and read, as much as time will allow, in the fields of women’s leadership, education, coaching and entrepreneurship. Of late, I have been feeling a little saddened by the way that women leaders frequently caveat their words with ‘now I know this might sound a little bit woo woo’. It seems to me that this undermining of the spiritual, inspiration led and intuitive areas of women’s leadership, simply serve to disparage our gifts.
Women’s experience has, through the ages, been characterised as a realm in which earth guided wisdom dominates, in which intuition, inspiration and divine guidance are foregrounded. So why is that when we come to new paradigm models of women’s leadership, we are still so nervous about foregrounding these skills?
I have set out this year to consciously work with these areas in my leadership role and it often feels like the hardest work I have ever done. It is messy, uncomfortable and heart-poundingly tricky. I have been leaning in to the moments that history (and my job description) tell me require knowing. So when, for example, a member of staff comes to my office to let out their anxieties about their role, or relations with a team member, rather than tell them what to do next, I have sat in silence with them, actively created a 'fireside listening space'. Or, when a teacher has come and asked me what to do next, has said they don't know what to do for the best, I have sat with them, for what feels like an age, waiting for inspiration, waiting for guidance, waiting for something to inspire them too, in order that we are both guided more richly by the moment of crisis than we might have been had I leapt in.
There is a moment that as educators we are all familiar with, a moment we often take with children. You know, the moment when a child is so lost to their emotion, sometimes dangerously so, and you take a leap with them into the unknown. You have no idea if they will completely follow you, but you start, you divert, you reach out to them wherever they are and give them a hand to grab. Well this practice, intuitive, instinctive, this capturing a moment of inspiration is the kind of leadership I am talking about.
There is a place for this alongside all other kinds of leadership and, I for one, will be bringing it to the table without shame, embarrassment or undermining this New Year. I am going to be courageous in not knowing, accepting that this is a vital part of my development as a leader.