“Self-doubt is a terrible thing” wrote a respected local Head, evaluating leadership coaching she had received. “One knock can cause major setback. At my worst, I would not have been here without coaching support”. Years on, she was still “here”, providing leadership for other schools as well as her own.
Headship can feel lonely and exposed. Parents, governors, staff and pupils expect leadership and strong decisions. A crack of doubt can be seen as weakness.
An external coach may be the only person a Head feels able to open up to without fear of judgement or exposure. How often would you want to tell the chair of governors that you were feeling wobbly or lacking confidence in a certain area? A coach sets up a confidential space in which to talk about niggles, bigger worries and, of course, exciting projects for the future as well.
I have found that, just like leaders in other areas, headteachers can be beset by doubt and highly self-critical. They are also driven by the highest of ideals and want the best for their staff, the young people in their care and the community in which they work.
There’s a considerable body of evidence now for the impact of coaching on school leaders, including small scale research studies by the National College. Examining the evidence for our book on Coaching and Learning in Schools, we found that on a leadership level, coaching can support and stimulate:-
- development of leadership capacity
- creativity, decision making and problem solving
- greater sense of ease and alignment with the inner self, values and our moral compass.
The head of a nearby school who I have worked with over the years says that “Coaching links entirely with increasing capacity and raising attainment. It increases self-knowledge and helps direct communication and the ability to challenge in a non-confrontational way with clarity and purpose.”
In my experience, Heads seek coaching for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s to do with stress and managing a punishing work ethic. Prioritisation, time management and work life balance are top issues. So is the need for clarity, confidence and support in acting in a way that models their values to staff, pupils and the wider community. Delegation and dealing with performance come up in coaching time and again.
So, does everyone have gremlins? Yes they do. Is everyone sabotaged by them? Only if they don’t seek help with knocking them into touch.