Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:31

Developing Leaders is More Than a Final Year Activity

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leadershipStudents that are appointed to the role of School or House Captain often fall into two categories. There are those students who perform their roles incredibly well, impressing both their teachers, peers and family alike with leadership ability beyond their years. Others can look completely out of their depth, struggling to meet expectations while having a negative effect on School work and other aspects of life.

By the time most Schools consider leadership or teamwork development, the prospective School or House Captain has had years developing communication skills, values and behaviours that could be poor, and worse, have become ingrained and difficult to redress.

As a former senior officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, I know that the military has understood for centuries the need to develop leadership early in a career. There is far more to basic military training than the movie stereotype of push-ups, yelling and polishing shoes! It is the opportunity to introduce and develop values, traits, conduct and skills that will be utilised for an entire career.  Values such as integrity, teamwork and responsibility (similar to values of most businesses and expected at most Schools) are more than just words.  They are discussed, broken down, reinforced through behaviours and practiced constantly.

The same applies to leadership training in Schools.  For new Captains to meet the leadership expectations placed upon them, their first leadership experience can’t coincide with their appointment at the start of the year.  It has to be earlier in their School days, starting from the moment they first enter the School grounds for the first time.

Some of the best and most respected leaders in the world attest to learning to lead from experience – including the making of mistakes and learning from those events.  If young future leaders aren’t given the chance to discover these skills in their early years they will be doomed to make big mistakes (involving more money, people and responsibility) later in life.

To advance leadership skills within Schools, we recommend adopting 5 approaches to develop leadership talent:


1. Praise good behaviour and correct poor performance 

This is not new – teachers have been praising poor performance and recognising good performance for a long time. What is often not understood by students is why their performance was good or bad – and the resultant link to good or poor leadership behaviours. Many students can’t make the link between messing around with their mates and the poor example this can set for junior students. Nor will they understand why their presentation at a School assembly was so good. Was it their voice projection or their confidence in addressing questions from their peers? Was it their reasoned argument or their confident body language through use of hand gestures? Providing specific feedback that is linked to specific behaviours and values is essential for developing leadership talent.


2. Identify leadership potential early

Leadership should not be a skill that is ‘added on’ after a student has completed 5 years of Schooling.  It should be in core tasks as early as possible, so that expectations of responsibility become a normal part of doing business. The responsibility of bringing the right uniform, completing homework on time and to the correct standard can be linked specifically to leadership and teamwork behaviours. It’s easy to identify those students that relish or thrive on the extra responsibility from leadership opportunities or being thrust into the role of guiding others.  Looking for potential leaders of a School can start several years before the final year.


3. Provide leadership opportunities.

There is no point identifying your leadership talent and then not getting them to do anything.  This could be simple tasks like running a meeting, planning a project, running an assembly or guiding students in younger years.

While many Schools provide these opportunities, many miss the opportunity to provide guidance and feedback following these activities – in particular what specific actions were done well and what needs improvement. It can often be months before that same student has the opportunity to undertake the same event again and learn from the experience. We all get better with practice, and tracking a students leadership opportunities, including their triumphs and their areas of improvement, is essential to becoming a better leader.


4. Provide leadership skills training and build relationships

If I again reflecting on my time in the military background, it was only after I left that I have realised the military expected leaders to continue their leadership training constantly as they progress through the ranks. Leadership training provides not only access to learn new skills and experience best practice, it also provides an opportunity for student leaders to work with their peers and build relationships. The peer network is one of the most underrated in Schools. Whether it be on the sporting field, in the classroom or during leadership activities, students are more than capable to discuss what traits were more or less effective when reflecting on their and their peers performance.

In my military career, it was my peers that I often turned to for advice, help and suggestions (not my boss), as they were the most effective sounding board with insight into the issues being confronted. The same applies at School. When students are provided a platform and opportunity to help each others growth through feedback and formal channels, there is less worry about negative feedback provided through more unregulated back channels (social media, webchat, Facebook etc)


5. Train for war, not for peace

Please excuse the military reference, but it is highly applicable for training leadership in Schools. From my experience, most Schools attempt to train leaders for peace, whereas the military trains for war.  In addition, the majority of school leadership and teamwork training is undertaken when the calendar is easier and there is no pressure from exams, NAPLAN test and extra-curricula activities.

I am not suggesting that Schools should add on leadership training in peak periods, but students should be prepared to lead in all situations, including when things get busy and exams loom.  This requires both effort and guidance, but the real return to training and developing the skills of a School’s leaders is in the difficult times. By not maintaining training and leadership activities during the hard times, School’s forego an opportunity to prepare their future leaders with the experience needed to address similar situations later down the track.

By identifying a School’s future leaders early and then training, nurturing, building and challenging their skills with development and mentoring programs – an internal environment is created that builds a store of leadership talent with attributes to address the leadership challenges of the School’s future. You might even be surprised by the results.

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:41

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