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You as a Leader: Why do You get out of bed every Morning? Part 1

Part 1 of a 3-part article, stay tuned for part-2 and part-3

Estimated Reading Time:  4.2 minutes

Word Count: 850

teacher looking at students

“You know those people who say that they have 15 years’ experience but what they really mean is one year over and over?”

Caroline McHugh, The Art of Being Yourself

Have you been a leader for years or are you new to the game? Either way, have you ever found yourself getting frustrated at the lack of impact you are having or do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut? If so, read on. What follows is the first of three articles that each contain short exercises that I’ve found helpful over the years to help you reflect on your leadership journey to date, pinning down what motivates you and how to increase your impact.

First of all, find out what motivates you

Pinpointing what gets you out of bed in the morning is crucial as a leader. We all have moments when we feel we’re at the top of our game, as well as much darker moments. During my time as a school leader and now at LKMco, I know that I work well when I’m supporting other people to grow and get regular feedback from the team and those who manage me. I also know that I find things hardest when there is a lack of moral integrity and shared purpose in a team. Why is it important to figure this stuff out? Our LKMco research finds that the majority of teachers stay in teaching because they feel good at it. Figuring out what ‘good’ means to you and what conditions enable you and those you lead to flourish is therefore really important. What follows is an exercise to help you consider just that.

Timelines exercise

Time: 15 minutes

This is a good one to do in a pair, but if it’s just you, it still works. Take a big piece of paper and map out your education and work life as a timeline; the ups and downs, wobbles and triumphs. Add in details like any significant life events, times when you felt particularly successful, or equally, troubled or unhappy. Draw pictures, name significant people, and consider what threads run through different jobs.

Here’s mine:

Now stop. Go and make yourself a cup of tea. Take a short break.

When you come back to your timeline, take a good look at what you’ve created. When have you been really motivated and felt like you’ve excelled? What were the conditions that enabled that to happen? And now, consider the times when you haven’t been able to flourish. What barriers were there that prevented you from being effective? Whilst some might be external factors, it’s important to be honest with yourself too – was there anything about how you were behaving at the time that meant you weren’t as motivated as you could have been?

Now, complete these three statements:

  1. 1. I am most motivated when I…
  2. 2. I am at my least motivated when ….
  3. 3. The leadership trait I most admire in others is…

 

What does it tell you about your current motivation levels and about the kind of conditions you work best in? Are there any small changes you can make to increase your energy levels and focus at work or is a more significant shift required?

Unsurprisingly, high on the list for what motivates many of us is an environment where praise and reward outweigh criticism and personal attacks. In her book, How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb talks us through the behavioural neuroscience of how to work effectively, highlighting that our brains work best when they are in ‘discovery’ mode, where we’re open to new opportunities and learning, instead of ‘defensive’ mode where we’re defending ourselves against criticism. In the book, she suggests a number of ways we can make every day count, even when we’re under pressure.

Although I’d recommend reading the whole book, one of the key takeaways is about intention setting, which goes something like this:

  • At the start of each day, write out your intentions for each part of the day, phrased positively. Webb explains that the evidence shows that going into a meeting negatively affects your perceptions of how that meeting goes – in short, you notice and amplify the bad things. One way to alter this is to set a positive intent before you go into that meeting. So, if you know you have a tricky meeting with a parent after school, although you might initially be dreading it, one of your intentions might be, “I want to listen to why this parent is disgruntled and collectively come up with a way we can help them and their child re-engage with the school”. Chances are it will go a whole lot better than if you’d gone in on the defensive.

 

So, thinking carefully about what it is that motivates you and planning your day around positive intentions is just the start of helping you to become more effective. In the next two articles, there will be follow up exercises to get you thinking about how you articulate what motives you to your team and how the people you surround yourself with can make you more effective as a leader.

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