Leadership Mistakes

Value Your Staff

Steve Morgan asked:

Value Your Staff

One of the biggest lessons I learnt when I was a newly appointed Principal of a Middle School, was to value my staff.  It took me a while but I came to realise that the quality of the staff is the biggest implement of change you can have in your arsenal.

A lot of people would say it’s the students who bring about change and development or the leader of the school/organisation but this is not so. My first blunder was to not recognise the particular strengths that individual staff members had.

Let me explain. To become a principal of a mid-sized school you need to have been through the mill yourself as a beginning teacher up through the system gaining skills and knowledge as you progress. And in order to progress, it stands to reason, you have to be pretty good at your job. It’s not a case of showing off but most principals were great teachers in their time otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are today.

I was one of those all round good teachers who could put his hand to anything. I was lucky. I was good at art, good at music, good at PE, which are mainly specialist subjects, and I was fortunate enough to be talented in all three. I also loved science, loved math and loved kids.

As an aside, it’s funny, no, sad really, that the further up the ladder you climb, the further away from teaching kids you get; and my talent was actually teaching kids! I think there’s a phrase for it: You are promoted to your level of incompetency.

Back to the plot….  My ego told me that nobody could do the jobs I needed doing better than me! (what a confession) so I took on enormous tasks so that my school ran smoothly but in doing so the time and energy were taking their toll on my health etc. I had failed to recognise that I should be looking at the big picture, as the visionary, rather than trying to micro-manage my school and all it encompassed.

I was afraid of letting go of control and letting others fly. It actually takes a lot of courage to let go of the reins and watch others make mistakes you wouldn’t have made!!! It’s all part of their professional growth to make mistakes and learn from them just as I did earlier in my career. Another by-product of not letting go is that you tend to stifle innovation. You are doing all the thinking. It’s far better to create a team that can adopt a task as a project and let them get on with it. It’s tempting to look over their shoulders but you have to programme in checkpoints for feedback and progress.

Selection of the team composition is paramount for success. You need an organiser; a go-getter; a worker; a creative innovator and a recorder who all enthusiastically support the task. One saboteur and all is just about lost.


Send out a memo asking the staff to write you a list of the things they are particularly good at or want to have a go at improving etc. Gather the data and arrange it in groupings so that you can then present them with the collective findings in an orderly manner. Once the staff take ownership of their own talents and want to contribute to the organisation you should be able to allocate tasks to individuals or teams to improve the work place or delivery of learning to kids. Offer to take their class in order to give them release time to reflect, research, plan etc or take the whole group in the school hall for singing or a talent quest or to the pools for a summertime free swim. It shows that you support what they are doing and value their talents.


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