February 22, 2021

Principals Blogs | Do you really trust those you lead with?

Have you ever had a moment when a bolt of inspiration hits you and the next thing you know is you are sharing it with a colleague? As I shared one of my little ‘jewels’ that came on me in mid 2020 with our Executive Team, I started to feel that sensation that rises from the pit of your stomach, that continues to rise through your body and leads to you feeling like your chest is constricting. This, for me, is caused by sharing a possible activity, in which I have not fully considered the impact on myself. Often in leadership we focus on the impact we will have on others, leaving ourselves to come a distant second.


The jewel

Asking the Executive if they would be happy to advertise, shortlist and interview the five vacant positions on our Leadership Team for the next three years, with zero input from myself. Yes, zero. In late 2020, I went on Long Service Leave for four weeks in November and December. We had completed staffing for 2021, all positions of leadership had been appointed for the 2021 – 2023 cycle and the last task was to interview and appoint the five Leadership Team position which were open to all staff. At Catholic College Wodonga we believe that all staff are educators regardless of their role and therefore available to apply for our Leadership Team.

One of the great challenges in leadership is delegating responsibility and allowing others in our teams to have real input. This decision was a little different. At the time, my decision was motived for two reasons. Firstly, time pressure due to my leave and secondly, I was and am very conscious that in my eight year as Principal of CCW, I do not want to hit the cruise button, or as I shared with all our staff at the start of this year, “turn up with my slippers on.”


Is this something you as a leader could do?

One key factor underlined my confidence in offering this opportunity to the Executive Team, I trust them. Tony Loorham, Eamonn Buckley and Tony Holt have worked with me since I arrived at CCW in 2014, whilst Shaun Mason started with us in 2016. As a group, we intimately know how each of us works, our strengths and areas for growth. As a group we are able to say when one of us has got it wrong, but also support each other to work through difficult times.

In not being a part of the selection process for the five positions and having made no comments regarding who I felt should be in, I positioned myself ready to help build a new team with no input. All I asked of the Executive Team was to clearly articulate why each member was selected and highlight how they will compliment other members of the team.


What I’ve learnt from this

In my experience, when a leader is away, those in ‘acting’ roles just keep the ship heading north, staying within their channel lanes and moving at pre – determined speed. In my 15 years as a Deputy Principal, the longest opportunity I had as an Acting Principal was one week. As leaders we are duty bound to provide real leadership opportunities to those we lead with, a real chance to navigate their own course and reach the destination which best suits the strategic direction of the College. Shaun and the Executive Team had this. I then had the great privilege of understanding their thinking on the appointments and where they were right for us as a community heading forward. A couple of weeks ago the Leadership Team worked with Jenni Donohoo, in these early stage of formation as a new team I could see the reasoning for their decisions in plain sight. A truly wonderful moment in leadership.


My second learning from this initial “jewel” was never underestimate the time need to form trust. In particular invest your time in people, not just within your community, but also those from outside. Paul Browning and Brendan Spillane have been key figures in assisting me with understanding what it means to build trust.  Not just in theory, but also in practice. Importantly, I will continue to draw on the work of Paul and Brendan as building trust is a daily activity in leadership and one which I believe is at the heart of my role.