Focus on the good bits first and the rest will follow
In order to create brilliance in your school, focus on what’s going well as a starting point for change and the rest will follow, writes Simon Dunford.
Creating the conditions to succeed
True leadership is about creating the right conditions for success and providing the right opportunities for others to succeed. Leadership is important work, highly-skilled and multifaceted. When done well, it almost becomes invisible: it is background work; it doesn’t bring the leader ‘front and centre’; it becomes about enabling, developing and enhancing others.
That all being said, leadership is not a bit-part; it is a crucial element. Behind the success of the team and/or individual is the leadership that has enabled, fostered and supported it.
An important part of this work is laying out an effective strategy of school improvement, one that will create the conditons for success. If your team is doing well, it means the systems are working well; if people are happy, safe and achieving, then you as a leader are also doing well. On the flip side, if they are not doing well, not feeling safe, happy or achieving to their best potential, then you must ask yourself the question, ‘What am I going to do to enhance, develop, rectify this?’
Finding Rays of Success
Too often however, we choose the wrong starting point by looking for what is not going so well and trying to set it right. This can be an uphill slog and can become dispiriting. A more positive – while still authentic – strategy is to look for all the current ‘rays of success’ that are occurring within your organisation, and to build on them.
Look at the good bits first
We therefore need to make a conscious decision to look at the good bits first. Reflecting on ‘what is actually going well’ can be a positive and uplifting process, and it can give us the motivation and energy to tackle the other areas. Looking into the reasons and factors that are enabling our successes will likely provide us with tools, strategies and conditions that we may be able to replicate in areas that need a bit of development.
Once you have identified what your Rays of Success are, brainstorm to pinpoint what has contributed to these successes. Consider the following:
- What skills and knowledge are evident?
- What resources have enabled these successes?
- What systemic and cultural elements are supporting these successes?
- How are the relationships being developed and fostered?
- Are your communication systems working effectively? Are messages being received correctly?
- Are new experiences and opportunities being given and given fairly?
Analysing the evidence of success
Using the analysis of our successes gives us some valuable clues and some positive things to begin to replicate and learn from.
Remember that things don’t succeed or go well for no reason: if you know what factors and/or conditions support success, then these can be duplicated. Building on the positive can also achieve successful outcomes much quicker than if we had primarily focused (through a negative/deficit mindset) on ‘what’s not going so well’.
If you have already identified areas of success, and, crucially, shared/celebrated them, you can then plan for adding something else to the ‘going well’ list by using some of the conditions, factors, knowledge and resources that are working to further develop a plan for transferring/replicating these in the areas for development.
A subtle but powerful shift
The shift in mindset of adding to what’s going well/working rather than a mindset that focuses on what is not working and needs to change is subtle, simply achieved, and reaches the same outcomes in a much more positive, empowering, and morale-building way.
In essence, we must focus on incrementally adding to all the good stuff that is going on rather than making it primarily all about focusing on weakness and deficit. The theory is simple; the more stuff that is good and working well, the less stuff there is that’s not working so well and is a weakness.
Leadership is not about getting it right all the time: it is about the drive and commitment in continuing to work with your team to make things better. For me, the measure of a great leader is not what they achieve directly, but by what they enable others to achieve. I like the astronaut Chris Hadfield’s take on this:
‘Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.’
Absolutely. And you get the best out of others, when you focus on the best bits first, and build on them – so start looking for those rays of brilliance!
Author and CEO of Dumond Education, Simon Dunford is an experienced educator with over 25 years’ experience in teaching, leadership and advisory roles in many countries and regions worldwide.
For more about Simon’s ideas on transformational leadership, see his new book,
Support Images: kindly provided by Simon