Developing people, developing schools

Prevention is better than cure. Why leadership development is important in ELT Education

The well-known adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is mostly associated with Health. Lately, I've found myself using this expression in relation to leadership development. When I am coaching managers or carry out training and development workshops, the same themes repeatedly come up: dealing with difficult people, under-performance, resistance to change and conflict. So, let’s pause there a moment. You will notice that all of these requests relate to solving what we might call people-related problems. So, I ask myself: why don’t organisations seek advice on preventing these challenges from arising in the first place, rather than trying to solve them with quick-fix interventions? Surely prevention is better than cure in these cases?

If we are aiming to prevent conflict, resistance or underperformance at work, we need to shift our training and development priorities.  We need to start with the management team, rather than the employees.  Managers need to take part in a leadership development programme.

Start by developing managers into leaders

I’ve been wondering why leadership development isn’t more prevalent within ELT Education already? Head teachers and Principals may have had this training, but there are more leaders in schools than just the one at the top of the pyramid.  When I ask middle managers or teacher trainers if they see themselves as leaders, most of them avoid a straight ‘yes’ answer.  Instead they are likely to tell me their job role or their job title. Rarely, though, will anyone say, ‘I’m a manager’. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how it is perfectly normal to say, ‘I’m a teacher’ in education, but it seems almost abnormal to say, ‘I’m a manager’. It’s like it’s a negative thing to admit. And nobody ever calls themselves a leader. I suppose that reeks of self-importance. Have you even wondered why so few job titles use the term ‘leader’? Could it be this seemingly unconscious sense of embarrassment about management and leadership in education that relegates training and development for managers to the bottom of the priority list?

It shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list, though, it should be at the top.  Just as you can’t be a great teacher without training and development, you can’t be a great manager without it either. All managers need to learn the art of leadership. Why? Leadership is the place you find yourself in, when you need to influence others to do something. If people are going to follow your lead, you need to demonstrate a range of leadership characteristics and qualities that they admire. If your team members are not doing what is expected of them, then it is likely there is a leadership issue to address.  There are two sides to the coin.

There’s more to developing management expertise than simply learning on the job

If you ask people in leadership roles (and that includes people not in management) if they have ever had leadership training, or a mentor or coach to help them navigate the choppy waters of management, the answer is usually no. Why is it that in education, we typically think that leadership is based on an innate set of traits that must come naturally to you? Why is leadership training deemed unnecessary? In ELT, why do we ask people to have a DELTA or a teaching Diploma qualification to move into middle management? What have these teaching qualifications got to do with management? Why do we think that newly promoted managers are best left to learn on the job? Or that attending one or two conferences a year ticks the box?

Let me paint you a picture, one I think shows why leadership training and development is crucial. Managers are expected to persevere with their stressful job day after day, and deal with people problems as they arise. They are expected to cater to everyone’s demands and expectations. That’s what you do as a manager, isn’t it? It’s how it has always been done. Simply follow in the steps of your predecessor, making a few tweaks here and there, putting your own stamp on things. You’re so busy dealing with the daily routine and trying to be an effective troubleshooting manager, that you don’t notice the friction that’s building up around you.  You hope it will go away by itself, but it doesn’t. Quite often it festers and becomes bigger problems.

So, then you start complaining about the issues that are becoming more pronounced within the team: difficult people, resistance to change, underperformance, conflict amongst team members. You’re not sure what the solution is. Perhaps you invite in a trainer for a half day workshop to address these issues with the target audience.  To get them to change. To cure the people with the problems in a quick fix workshop. Will that training day make a real difference? Maybe. But not if the climate within the school is wrong. Not if there are concerns about leadership.

I’m sure this picture sounds familiar to many of you. So, imagine the benefits that come with a greater understanding of your role as a leader and thereby shifting the focus from problem solving to problem prevention; from conflict resolution to conflict avoidance; from resistance to change to achieving buy-in for a shared vision of the future; from underperformance to staff engagement and empowerment. If you want your team to engage in lifelong learning, you have to rewrite the book on what it means to be a modern-day learner and, essentially, you have to lead by example. All managers and team leaders need to develop their own self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and to learn more about leading their teams towards optimum performance, or through challenging changes. These are all components of leadership development.

Call to action

So, would you like to join a leadership development programme, either as part of a course, or with a personal mentor or coach?  Make a decision today. If you would like to continue this conversation with me and explore leadership development options, please get in touch.