The Art of Presence

All school leaders need to be visible. They need to be up and about and seen in and around the school so that the school population have opportunities to interact with them, be heard and feel secure.

Good leaders know the art of presence and establish a routine and rhythm of doing the rounds and ‘being there’. Where they spend their time shows what’s important and what they value.

They walk the corridors, they visit classrooms, they move around the playground, they are no stranger to the staffroom and reception, and they stand at the school gates. Visible leadership is the commitment to lead and communicate the school’s values and mission.

In the free to download ebook, Compelling Leadership, Paul Browning reports how many staff

valued seeing the Principal around the school grounds, speaking with parents, students and individual staff, modelling and reinforcing behaviours and expectations. They also commented on how much they valued the leader’s presence in the staff room, at school assemblies, chapel services, functions and performances. Staff trusted their Principal because he/she was part of the school; they could see that he/she was committed to the fundamental purpose of the school and its values.

By being mobile and highly visible, they show everyone that they genuinely care. Staff need to see the whites of their leaders’ eyes and know they can trust them on a personal level if they’re going to do their job well.

A deliberately planned presence demonstrates leaders mean business. Being accessible, approachable and relatable earns trust and respect.

Leaders who are truly part of the school are seen throughout and have first-hand knowledge of the real conditions teachers and students face.

They get to see and hear things they would not have known from staying in their office or catching up with colleagues in a meeting.

Talking to staff and students enables leaders to find out what they think, the challenges they face, and the good things about the school.

How many problems and gems could you discover if you spent an extra 30 minutes per day personally connecting with staff and students where they work, break and eat?

There is a better understanding of how the school population function and react under various conditions when leaders make a conscientious effort to observe them, become personally acquainted with them, and recognise their individual differences. Leaders have to go where the action is at.

Front line presence isn’t always as high as it could be in some schools and where leaders are ‘invisible’ and detached, trust can quickly evaporate.

Presence has to be the expectation and the norm so that the school’s vision stays in focus.

Staff are always watching how the leadership team interact with each other. They take their behavioural cues from these interactions, which has a big impact on whether the school has separate silos.

Presence and visible leadership is not just a matter of showing up and being seen. Good leaders can’t be physically everywhere and available to everyone all of the time but if their actions and messages are consistent  then their presence can be felt even when they are elsewhere.

Felt leaders share a strong vision and this permeates the school.

The benefits of being a visible and felt leader:

  1. It breaks down barriers between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’
  2. It adds the human touch to relationships
  3. It helps embed the culture throughout the school
  4. It models professional behaviours, responses and attitudes
  5. It makes leaders more accessible
  6. It allows you to see what’s working and what isn’t
  7. It builds credibility
  8. It builds awareness of teaching, learning and assessment
  9. It contributes deep knowledge about school systems
  10. It demonstrates respect and support for staff and students
  11. It increases engagement
  12. It builds teams and esprit de corps
  13. It allows you to celebrate in the moment
  14. It opens up multi-way conversations
  15. It creates psychological safety

Executive presence is a skill, not a trait, and it’s something you can cultivate and build. It requires projecting an image through actions, words, and the manner in which you carry yourself.

Leaders have to be able to convey a sense of being highly competent and knowledgeable. They need to be able to inspire confidence in students, in staff, and in the parent community.

Projecting self-confidence, professional pride and certainty in the school’s ability to succeed is key because it motivates.

Engaged staff and students drive better outcomes for their school. It is about winning hearts and minds, tapping into people’s emotions to inspire them.

A leader’s confidence is contagious and quickly permeates the entire school especially in challenging circumstances and situations.

A leader’s presence can help reduce anxiety and make vulnerable staff and students feel secure and supported.

Present leaders consistently raise morale, drive motivation and fuel self-belief.

Presence is a critical attribute that leaders need to understand. Your presence is required.

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