As leaders do we overprotect our staff?
Mae West, whose career spanned over seven decades in the golden days of Hollywood once famously said ‘every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out from what’. Now that might be slightly more obvious in the new days of open reports in the public sector about misogyny and lack of equality but it also reminds me of many leaders, including myself, that I meet in the sector.
We often have a misguided view as education leaders that to create a positive culture and show that we value people and their well being, we have to protect our staff at all levels. For instance how often have you told people with a cheery disposition that they are doing a ‘great job’ and thanked them for it having just heard from them that they have dropped a clanger or they have delivered a poor outcome for children and young people?
How often do we catch ourselves saying to staff when things haven’t gone quite according to plan ‘don’t worry, I’ll sort it’ or ‘we need to consider peoples workload and wellbeing if we are going to introduce that’? And finally, my personal favourite, ‘don’t tell them today, they are having a bit of a wobble’!
In my time as a sector leader I think I have said all of the above (and many more besides) in my misplaced judgement that I was protecting my staff team and fostering their wellbeing. Consequently, they would have better attendance and we would be able to provide a better service for our young people. Sadly, it took me a long time to realise that actually isn’t the case.
I remember one particular ‘protection mission’ that I led and, whilst I won’t go into the detail here, I can assure you that I learned a lot about what not to do when leading people.
What I have learnt from my many mistakes, done with the best of intentions is this:
- Our level of wellbeing (whatever we believe that to mean!) is personal to absolutely everyone and changes all the time
- That wellbeing and workload are not one and the same thing, nor are they intrinsically linked, so why do we keep putting them in the same sentence?
- Be honest and transparent - tell people exactly what is happening and, more importantly, why. If they understand, however bad the message, they will be grateful (eventually!)
- Treat people with kindness and empathy. However negative the message, there is never an excuse to be cruel
- Ownership of a message empowers people to be solution focussed and can drive productivity and creativity
- By protecting others, I was actually dipping into my own reserves and that very nearly caused my mental health and career to implode!
So, now you know what I have learnt what not to do, come and challenge me or learn from those far more skilled than me about how we might foster positive wellbeing amongst staff teams in your setting to improve productivity and happiness at our FREE Education Breakfast Briefing at Rollits, Hull on Friday 2 December 2022 between 0830 and 1000. Booking is essential so register your place now.
Sarah Young, Young+