Norman Drummond led a wonderful session this morning at our Headteachers’ Conference. Today’s theme was “Developing a Coaching Culture in East Lothian”. Norman is an exceptional presenter and his focus on co-coaching seemed to resonate with many of my colleagues.
Norman has an uncanny knack of helping people to unlock their own hopes and ambitions, and getting them to reflect upon their experiences.
In the course of a conversation with Norman I quoted one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received. I was a Depute Headteacher at Selkirk High School and I had been sitting in my office one afternoon feeling a bit sorry for myself having seemed to have dealt with four or five members of staff in the course of the day – each of whom had a complaint or a concern. I was talking about this with a colleague, Robin Ross, who had been a Church of Scotland minister in Jerusalem for many years before returning to Scotland and starting a teaching career. I think I said something along the lines that I felt a bit like a punch bag with people unloading their problems on me. Rather than feeling sorry for me Robin told me that throughout theological history it has been the role of the leader to bare his/her back and absorb the pain of others. I’d never considered this before – but it did seem so powerful. From that time on – although I’m sure some of the people who have worked for me will probably disagree – I’ve tried to be aware of the need to absorb people’s pain, particularly in times of stress. Sometimes it’s too easy for the leader to simply rebound or even amplify people’s concerns.
It’s not something I’ve ever come across in any leadership book or manual but that piece of advice has had a transformational impact upon me throughout my career.
Last small observation – Robin Ross was a teacher, I was Depute HT, yet he acted as a mentor/coach for me (his line manager). So often we expect coaching/mentoring relationships to be characterised by a “downward” direction of travel. I believe we need to actively challenge that notion as some of the best coaching advice I’ve received has come from people I managed.