My Leadership Story

I have volunteered to "share my leadership journey" for ten minutes before leading a discussion with other middle leaders at a SCEL event in Edinburgh.  This blog post is a rehearsal of those ten minutes, and I would gratefully appreciate any constructive feedback.

I have a leadership story rather than a leadership journey to share. This is the story I tell myself about how I got to where I am now as a leader, and about where I might go next. It is very subjective and selective. Nonetheless I think it is worth sharing, because this is the truth I inhabit. You also have stories you tell yourself, and you inhabit your stories every day of your professional life. It is sometimes easy to recognise these stories in others - the colleague who sees themselves as the victim of unreasonable burdens regardless of changing circumstances or another who sees themselves as blessed and lucky no matter what misfortunes befall them. It is much harder to identify the stories we tell ourselves, because we tend to see them not as stories but as "how things are". These stories have immense power to shape our motivations and actions. If we are willing to examine them critically, we may even be able to reshape them into more powerful, positive stories.

Here's my story. It highlights the biographical moments which seem significant to me, and takes for granted my enduring desire to improve the lives of the young people of Scotland through education.

As a young teacher, I had no interest in leadership. I thought leadership was synonymous with dominance and control. I wanted to do neither. My worldview was influenced by Buddhist and psycho-therapeutic ideas. I believed in human growth and human potential, not in command-and-control.

I also thought promotion just meant less teaching and more administration (I was right about that!). And so I avoided anything I would have described as a leadership position for many years. I did, however, become a senior teacher with responsibility for ICT. But that wasn't leadership in my head, because I wasn't anyone's boss. During this period I began to blog and use Twitter, thanks to the work Don Ledingham, Ewan McIntosh, Louise Jones, David Gilmour, John Johnstone, Neil Winton, Kate Farrel, Ian Stuart and others were doing. They formed the core of my growing professional learning network. My horizons expanded beyond my room and the colleagues in my department. I participated in an early Teachmeet.

Then eventually my PT announced his impending retirement, and I was faced with the possibility of having to work under a new PT who might be younger and less experienced than me. That didn't seem like it would be fun, so I decided to apply. I had a lot of support and encouragement via Twitter and my PLN, who convinced me to go for it. Ollie Bray was particularly supportive in terms of getting my application right. I remember being conscious at the time that I would have to really want it to get it, so I invested much time and energy in preparing over a 6 month period. During that time I began to read about leadership, and found, to my great surprise, that modern thinking about leadership actually resonated with my beliefs about human potential and the nurturing of human growth. This was a real turning point for me. I saw the possibility of being a leader whilst remaining true to myself - leading with integrity. I began to learn more about coaching.

All I had to do now was to convince someone to give me a job. I had the great good fortune to work under a head teacher, Colin Sutherland, who saw potential in me, and he promoted me to PT.

I loved being PT maths and did a great job (even if I say so myself!), and might have remained one for the rest of my career had East Lothian schools not restructured their departments into faculties. This meant that every PT had to reapply for their job. After my interview, one of the panel asked Colin "why isn't Robert a depute already?". When Colin told me this, it had a big effect on me. I began to believe I could make a difference on a bigger scale than one department. I applied for the flexible route to headship programme. This was the best CLPL I ever did. I was coached by Dorothy Hillsley, to whom I am eternally grateful.


Four years later I was a depute head teacher, after one spell as an acting depute which ended with my failing to secure the permanent post. That hurt, but I learnt a lot, and came back more resilient and determined. I have my current head Lauren Rodger to thank for this: she didn't appoint me the first time, but she always supported and believed in me. I have now achieved the standard for Headship, am loving having the opportunity to make appoint difference at NBHS and more widely and aspire to headship - gies a job!

So that's my story. 25 years condensed into a few paragraphs. Many failures, mistakes and moments of doubt along the way have been edited out. This can't possibly be the whole truth, and some of it may be entirely untrue. The causal links are far too simplistic and it paints me in an altogether too positive light. Small incidents are given perhaps unwarranted significance. It skips entirely any examination of the values which underpin my motivation to be involved in education. It's just a story, not the truth. But it is an (incomplete) approximation of the truth I inhabit. I think it's a good story, because it motivates me to keep learning and working hard. It also keeps me humble as it recognises the good luck and support of others which have helped me along the way. I'm keeping my eyes open for a better story.

What's yours?

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