Lessons in Leadership

My 15 year old son Jack has just been permanently excluded from school. I never thought I would feel okay about that, let alone share it with the world. I am doing it because I admire the head teacher who has guided us through a potentially very negative experience in a positive way and I want to explore the leadership lessons here.

Jack has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He’s a bright, articulate, likeable and entertaining boy who can charm the birds out of the trees. He is also disruptive, impulsive and aggressive, which, at well over 6ft tall, can be seriously intimidating.

“Mr X. He’s a legend”

So what did this Head teacher do that resulted in me being so appreciative of his support and Jack calling him “a legend” and swearing never to hear a word said against him?

  1. He created a culture at the school where the teachers’ remained positive about Jack and didn’t lose sight of his ADHD. That’s no mean feat. If he had a broken leg everyone would remember and keep it in mind. With ADHD it’s easy to forget and judge him as purely badly behaved.
  2. As the situation escalated he took a personal interest in Jack and for many weeks, saw him every day, to go through his targets and report card. A major commitment for a head teacher.
  3. He was always clear and succinct about expectations and targets, ensured Jack had understood these, and involved both Jack and me every step of the way.
  4. When it became clear that the strategies weren’t changing anything, he was able to step back, and consider the best options for everyone. Jack now has a permanent place at a specialist unit with an almost one to one teacher – student ratio, which will serve Jack’s needs better. The Head didn’t let pride or ego get in the way, even though he said he felt he’d failed Jack in some ways
  5. Finally, and from our perspective, most importantly, he visited us at home to finish his current contact with Jack on a positive note. He again emphasised all Jacks strengths and what he had enjoyed about having him in school. He then gave him a nicely wrapped present of a pen, and explained what it meant about communication, believing in himself and staying in touch.

I don’t know what Jack will make of his life but I do know that this was a significant moment that he’ll always remember. It speaks volumes that the man who made some really tough decisions over the last couple of years, decisions that made Jack really angry at times, has built such a good relationship that Jack is in no doubt about the fairness, and commitment with which he’s been treated.

My questions to you are:

  • How are you building that level of respect within your team?
  • How do you maintain good relationships whilst dealing with tough decisions and situations?

16 Responses to Lessons in Leadership

  • I used to think I hadn’t learned much from some of the highly paid so-called ‘fat cats’ that held senior positions in the banks I worked for, but I was struck one day when the head of retail banking stood up in front of an all staff meeting and was asked how he managed difficult decisions. His answer was simple and concise and earned him a lot of respect in my eyes: he said if you’re not sure what to do, “Just do the right thing.” I wish I’d learned that advice much earlier in life; it sounds like your son’s teacher understands it very well, Julie. I think if you do the right thing, respect and good relations will follow.

    • Thanks Neil. I love the theme throughout all these posts of doing the right thing, treating people equally, and being authentic. They all re-enforce for me the need for effective leaders to know what their values are and to act in alignment with those values.

  • Wow. What a great outcome all around. I’m really happy that he is able to transition to his new setting in such a positive way. I’ve worked in schools with children identified for various support services in the past and remember how difficult it was at times to make transitions go smoothly. The teacher is clearly a professional who is a leading by example. I’m glad that you were able to post on such a private topic – it’s a great example of your overall point.

  • So many teachers/managers take the easy route rather than dealing and developing the person behind the issue, if only they would listen more and be courageous in action our children and future workforce will be a great place to be, never underestimate the power of a good teacher who not only teaches the subject but helps develop that inner person to be greater for the future of our nation.

  • Wow! You’ve shown some inspiring leadership yourself, Julie. Takes courage to share your vulnerabilities with the world. Courage is the word that applies to both Jack (for being himself in the face of other’s lack of understanding) and his head teacher (for doing the right thing). Despite all the odds against them, they’ve both shown amazing emotionally intelligence.

    Have a rewarding holiday, you’ve earned it!


    • Thanks for your comments David. Yes emotional intelligence plays a major part here. Jack shows a great deal of self awareness and empathy in the calm periods. He gets frustrated by his lack of emotional self control in the moment and he will continue to get help with that at his new place from September.

  • I am amazed. I didn’t think any teachers had that level of social understanding. Well done to all concerned….a very good outcome against huge odds.
    Nice going, Julie!

  • Very interesting post and the earlier comments were good as well. It is amazing that the head teacher did not take it personally and at the same time did not forget Jack’s personhood and need for affirmation and care. This is an excellent reminder for leaders. We need to focus on what is best for our ministry and what is best for our team members. I’ll be back to read more…

    • Thanks Kay. If you are a new visitor to the blog you are welcome to visit previous posts and I would value any comments you have on those. I look forward to future contributions.

  • Excellent piece and thought provoking as usual. At the end of the day the Head saw the person and not the ADHD. A lesson for us all; genuiness and openess assist resolution to any challenge. On a professioanl and personal level empathetic, genuine engagement is a key action that I constantly strive to bring to all dialogue and decision making; I emphasis ‘strive’- my journey is continuous and often involves ‘one step forward and two steps back’. Many thanks once again for your generosity in sharing this.

    • Hi Joe. Your feedback means a great deal as I did hesitate about writing something so personal. I did of course check it was okay with both Jack and the Head Teacher.

      Your point about the importance of being genuine and open is very apt because that is also what spurred me to share this. It reflects who I “strive” to be as a leader. I think many of us are taking two steps forward and one back and the great thing about that is our overall progress is forward!

  • A great example of balancing “keeping it all business” (thereby lowering the attribution of personal offence) and taking a deep personal interest, which shows in the Head teacher’s commitment to see Jack as a Person. It goes back to being authentic. Authenticity allows the whole person to be exposed, if you will, and the strengths of the whole person to be brought to the fore.

    To your last question, perhaps a way to maintain solid relationships in hard times is to be very open that the decisions are hard and uncomfortable. Being professional means making the decisions, being authentic means working with your team to arrive at those decisions in a way that “brings them along” equally as partners and persons.

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