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Mother Teresa’s Rough Guide to Leadership

The writer of this blog post is Helen Crossland who graduated in our Leadership for ELT course in April 2014. Thank you for sharing this with us Helen!

In a couple of weeks I’ll be embarking upon my biggest challenge yet in the world of ELT – becoming a full time DOS for the first time and setting up an Academic Department completely from scratch at Kaplan International English’s brand spanking new school in Liverpool. 

Just before they gave me the job, Kaplan rather conveniently decided to enrol me onto an online course with Oxford TEFL about Leadership in ELT, and one of the very first things I learnt on that course is that I have a strong resemblance to Mother Teresa! 

Thankfully the resemblance relates to our leadership style rather than to our age and height, but roughly translated it means that I am ‘people loving’, I ‘lead with my good works and helpful nature’ and I ‘just love to give’. 

So, in true Mother Teresa style, the aim of this article is to give you something (an account of my ‘light bulb moments’ on the course) in the hope that it may help you to become a better leader.

Light bulb moment no 1 – Leadership and management are not the same thing!

When this particular light bulb came on in my head I got the feeling that maybe it was something I should have noticed a long time ago.  After being sent on management training courses on and off for the last 10 years I realised that not one of them had ever before made me think about how vastly different these two concepts are.  

 I had to find out more.  Put very simply, managers manage and leaders lead, but start to investigate a little and you’ll read that managers are ‘dictatorial’, they represent ‘formal authority’ and have ‘subordinates’ who they ‘direct’ and ‘control’, they focus on ‘results’ and ‘avoid taking risks or making changes’. 

Leaders on the other hand are ‘charismatic’, they have ‘followers’ who they ‘inspire’ and ‘motivate’, they focus on ‘achievements’ and are ‘risk-takers’ who ‘facilitate change’.  

My immediate reaction of course was to identify managers as ‘bad’ and leaders as ‘good’ (who wouldn’t?) and to ask myself ‘Which one am I?’  Go just a little deeper however and you start to get to the truth, which is that in fact the two approaches are necessarily linked and extremely complimentary, and that most people in ‘management’ roles are most successful when they are not only a manager or a leader, but when they are able to be both a manager and a leader.

Light bulb moment no 2Everyone deserves a little empathy

Having worked for a tour operator for a number of years before moving into ELT, empathic listening is something that felt I had down to a tee. 

Put me in front of a complaining holiday maker, or more recently as ADOS in front of an unhappy student, and I have no problems making sure that person feels listened to and that their point of view has been fully understood and acknowledged. But what this course made me question was whether I listen to people in the same way in other situations; my colleagues, my friends, or my husband for example? 

The honest answer was no, I don’t.  I realised that I had always seen empathic listening as a customer service tool designed to make the customer feel like you were helping them even when you could, in reality, do very little or nothing. 

What I now realise is that listening to people empathically, that is seeking first to understand them and to show them that you have understood before seeking to be understood yourself, helps to make many conversations in many different situations much more effective.

Light bulb moment no 3 – Diaries really do work!

Like many people the words ‘excellent organisational skills’ have been appearing on my CV for as long as I can remember, yet like pretty much everyone else doing the course with me, my main difficulty at work is not dealing with demanding students or difficult teachers but in effectively organising my own time and my own workload. 

Previous courses have taught me all about prioritising and about considering tasks in terms of their importance and their urgency, but this knowledge has never really seemed to help me make any actual progress towards being able to ‘do what it says on my tin’, let alone in the incredibly busy non-stop world of Kaplan International College Cambridge.  

Needless to say, I wasn’t too optimistic that this time around would be any different.  Once again I thought about my weekly tasks in terms of importance and urgency, I considered how much QII time I’m fitting in, and asked myself whether those precious few minutes spent chatting and laughing with teachers in the staff room would really be better spent shut away in my office doing something more pressing (I’m not so sure!).  

However, my final light bulb moment actually came when I was asked to do something very simple; sit down with my diary and schedule in every task I had to complete for the week, then try to stick to it.  After dutifully filling up my diary on Sunday evening I was then inevitably filled with a sense of dread about the week I had ahead. 

To put it bluntly, the exercise had scared the hell out of me!  Monday morning came around and I started out my day feeling much more stressed out than usual; how would I ever make it to Friday?  The funny thing was though, I did make it, and I managed to do pretty much everything I had to do more or less according to my schedule. 

Of course not everything went to plan, but then when does it? The point is that having that plan to begin with allowed me to adapt it and make informed decisions about my time, rather than spend every day feeling like I was either running a race or fighting fires.  And I didn’t have to eliminate the laughs in the staffroom to do it!

So there you have it, my very rough guide to leadership based on just a fraction of what I learnt on my course.  Nothing ground breaking, maybe nothing you haven’t heard before, but hopefully enough to help you realise that light bulb moments can be hiding where you least expect them, and finding them can make all the difference!

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