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Managing The Fear Of Stepping Into A New School Leadership Role

Viv Grant helps you learning to embrace change and let go of your worries

  • Managing The Fear Of Stepping Into A New School Leadership Role

Think back to when you first became a teacher, to your very first class, your very first parent’s meeting, your very first assembly. No doubt you will remember those very first feelings of fear, anxiety and worry as you sought to get to grips with new experiences.

Hopefully, you will also remember when those feelings began to subside and you were no longer so worried and fearful; the time when you began to operate effectively within your comfort zone. As you grew in confidence about your skills as a teacher, so too did your ability to manage your classroom, your interaction with parents, peers and colleagues. Your comfort zone became a positive place for you to be. It became a place that:

  • Confirmed your identity as a teacher
  • Affirmed your strengths, which in turn boosted your levels of confidence and self-esteem
  • Nurtured belief in your own abilities and enabled you to experience the freedom to be creative and try out new ideas
  • Helped you to trust in yourself

You may also recall the time when you knew you were ready to step outside of the comfort of your classroom. When you knew that you were ready to take on increased responsibilities, because the classroom walls had become too small for you and were constricting your growth.

It was because you acknowledged your feelings in your comfort zone and chose to step into your stretch zone that you are in the leadership position that you are in today. The stretch zone being the areas in our lives where we recognise there is the potential for growth and for a deeper realisation of our skills and talents.

Moving Out of the Comfort Zone and into the Stretch Zone

As much as stepping out of your comfort zone into the position you are in today may have felt like a conscious decision, it takes a much deeper level of consciousness to know how to thrive and survive in the stretch zone. It also takes a deeper level of consciousness to avoid it becoming the panic zone! In the panic zone, life is very, very hard. We lose all sense of perspective. We feel as though we are forever living on a knife edge. Our capacity to lead either ourselves or others is severely limited.

It is never easy moving out of our comfort zones; our self-esteem receives regular boosts when our expertise is recognised and validated by others. However, in the stretch zone, we have no immediate expertise to call upon. In the stretch zone, it is our self-esteem that feels under threat. We are no longer able to gain confidence from tasks, roles and responsibilities that we have yet to master. We have to admit that we do not know. Then self-doubt and diminished self-confidence accompany these admissions.

Unfortunately ‘not knowing’ is often mistaken ‘for not being able’. This is partly because, in order to protect ourselves from the pain of personal change, we adopt what soon become limiting defence mechanisms, behaviours that limit both our own and other people’s perceptions of ourselves.
How to survive the struggle involved in ‘Stepping Up’

Jungian analyst James Hollis argues that when we develop the capacity to accept and work with the anxiety and ambiguity which often accompanies movement outside of our comfort zone, we grow up:

Move into unfamiliar territory and anxiety is activated as our constant comrade… psychological or spiritual development always requires a greater capacity in us for the toleration of anxiety and ambiguity. The capacity to accept this state, abide it and commit to life is the more measure of maturity.

In accepting this truth, we accept that life is not always easy. In the context of school leadership we also accept that struggle is as much about our own maturity and growth as it is about the maturity and growth of our schools and those we lead and manage.

So, if this new school term, has seen you take on a new leadership role, be kind to yourself. Know that any feelings of fear, anxiety and nervousness are normal; they are transitory and they will pass. Make sure to buddy up with others that have been there before. As long as they can provide a good listening ear and allow you to learn from your mistakes, you will grow in confidence and self-belief. You will discover, as authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner state that, “Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process that ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best in themselves and others”.

Viv Grant is the director of Integrity Coaching, an author, occasional education commentator for @Guardian and a passionate advocate for school leaders. She Tweets at @Vivgrant

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