When leaders move to a new school or receive an internal promotion invariably we encounter problems to solve that instantly become our responsibility yet these problems may not be of our own making. As a result, we can be very quickly associated with the problem and needing to solve it.
This is a really tough aspect of leadership to deal with. Depending on how long the problem has existed may influence the way colleagues act towards us. Some of our colleagues confuse fault with responsibility, not seeing a difference between the two. This is particularly evident when finger-pointing takes place and frustrations are vented. It is very easy for a leader to slip into ‘victim-mode’, blaming others for their predicament.
The reality is, however, that the different problems that exist in our schools are not going away and it is our job to fix them.
Blaming others for the problems we face is a tricky situation to navigate, especially when some matters are sensitive. If we try to deflect blame we are wasting time and energy avoiding the problem in front of us, which is not going away. Some leaders may bury their heads in the sand until they finally have to face up to what needs to be solved, or they may try to find a way out, as it is all too hard. Delaying a response to those issues in our schools that are causing others significant frustration only makes things worse.
So, what should leaders do? Acknowledge there is a problem and communicate that, as a leader, we have a responsibility to try and fix it. Clearly communicate the steps we are taking to try to get the problem addressed, be as transparent as possible to create collective understanding, especially when roadblocks are encountered. Most importantly, never promise that we can fix something that we cannot control. Over-promising and under-delivering will lead to a decline in trust.
In some instances, dare I say it, we have to say “This is a problem that I cannot fix, for now.” If we try to fix every problem that is placed in front of us, we will be over-stretched and unfocused. Leaders have to develop a plan of action to problem-solving in schools, picking things off one or two at a time. Be careful, however, that while putting out the small spot fires can lead to quick wins and, perhaps, momentum, we may be ignoring the raging inferno.
While the responsibility of leadership can be huge and over-bearing at times, there is great satisfaction when we solve the big problems in our workplaces. The downside is, however, that there will always be more problems ahead that are not our fault.