Building Confidence and Taking the Pressure Off

Vol. 11 No. 5


We know that part of a school leader’s job is to build up the confidence of faculty and staff—helping “set them up” for success. A recent story reminded us, though, that sometimes we also need to build up the confidence of those whom we assume are already very confident: the Head’s direct reports and other senior professionals at the school.

When Things Became Overwhelming

An academic team recently gathered in “retreat” fashion to plan a very exciting and ambitious initiative. Working diligently, the team soon had several whiteboards full of potential project designs and related details spread around the room. As the group did a brief re-cap before adjourning for the day, they took in the array of materials and vocalized an unexpected sentiment: they felt a bit overwhelmed.

The participants were all very accomplished in their fields and held prominent and highly-respected positions in their school. And yet, even for this group, the size of the task before them—laid out in visual form on the whiteboards—was daunting. “I’m not sure I’m qualified to undertake even a few pieces of this,” one remarked quietly, spurring “me, too’s” from the others.

Remedies: Breaking Tasks Into Pieces

Taking note of the group’s reaction, the meeting leader started the following morning with three key ideas:

1. Breaking the larger tasks down into more manageable pieces
2. Giving them permission not to accomplish everything in one fell swoop
3. Identifying outside support that could assist with pieces of the project

Instead of looking at a 50-item list of ideas and action items, they grouped the information into more manageable segments—leaving the participants breathing easier at the thought of attacking 10 tasks rather than 50. At the same time, the leader reminder the group that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and encouraged them not to feel they needed to address all possible aspects at one time—they could start small and build from there. Finally, they identified outside experts who could be contracted to provide specific expertise on individual pieces of the project—i.e., they didn’t have to go it alone.

Lessons Learned

As school leaders, we realize that sometimes we need to take the pressure off faculty and staff to free them up mentally and emotionally to perform well. What we don’t always remember, though, is that sometimes we need to do the same for even the most senior (and seemingly most confident) school leaders themselves. By turning large tasks into manageable sub-pieces, by allowing ourselves to approach pieces sequentially rather than in one fell swoop, and by bringing in outside support at strategic moments, we can take the pressure off and restore confidence at the same time. This can be a healthy—and necessary—approach … even with those we assume have all the confidence in the world.

Additional ISM articles of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 7 No. 10 Laughter Is at the Heart of All Effective Meetings
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 3 Use Meeting Summaries to ‘Market’ Your Board

Additional ISM articles of interest for Consortium Gold members
I&P Vol. 28 No.15 The Role of the Academic Management Team
I&P Vol. 32 No. 16 Building Your Faculty's Characteristics of Professional Excellence
I&P Vol. 29 No.15 The Head’s Role in Developing Leadership

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