Skip to main content

Role models taught me resilience. Time to repay the favour - Katie Stafford

09 March 2023

Having supported one of my recently promoted team leaders, I was privileged to be invited to observe and offer feedback on the presentations of a cohort of new middle managers who had successfully completed their “Leading from the Middle” course. I was impressed not only by their enthusiasm for the course, but the detail and thought put into solving the problems that they had experienced. In recent years, we have made substantial progress in developing our own managers and we now have a community of college leaders who meet for mentoring and support discussions with those who want to progress their careers. In my own experience, these sessions have grown trust and confidence and have now become a two-way process in which both sides share problems that need solving. The conversations are helping us grow in our capacity to deal with the complexities of the FE system. During these sessions, I often think about the role models and mentors that have believed in me and helped me navigate through the successes and most difficult issues. The ones who showed me what it meant to be a good leader and grew my inner resilience. I hope I can do the same for our own future talent.

My theoretical knowledge of management and leadership began through my Btec in business and finance at college and then at university. In my studies I became very interested in the organisational behaviour units of these courses, particularly approaches to motivating and engaging people within the culture of the organisation. Many years later, as a perpetual student, I have found a new source of inspiration through the podcasts of Steven Bartlett, Diary of a CEO, who explores with simplicity and candor the lives of his guests. Simon Sinek in his “A Bit of Optimism” podcasts discusses and shares new thinking, ideas and insights from the world of business. Brené Brown, an American professor, offers us podcast conversations on her powerful vision of “awkward, brave and kind” leadership.

The authenticity of the guests and the narration of the stories told on these podcasts is palpable and provides a very powerful basis reflection and self-awareness that I believe is important to be a good leader. To develop and improve our own leadership practice, it is crucial to be open minded to new ways of thinking and behaving. I welcome the recent publication of the ETF Professional Standards for Leaders which outline the need for reflection, the importance of leadership values and behavior which inspire others and the emphasis of a positive working culture.

As a Research Further Scholar, I have a responsibility to share the findings of my research and support research in the sector. With a passion for developing future leadership approaches and models for the sector I have a strong feeling of personal responsibility to support, inspire and develop the new and emerging leaders of the future. Compared to schools, research in leadership in further education is very rare and so there is a necessity to grow this area of research and work towards a better understanding of what it means to be a leader in a sector that we cherish.

Exposure to positive role models and coaching from within the sector is crucial to ensuring that FE continues to serve the communities of teachers and students within the values of integrity and high expectations. At sector level, understanding our own leadership practice supports the recruitment and retention of leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds and encourages the divergent thinking that is necessary to help stimulate discussion and problem solving that keeps colleges agile and responsive.

The complexities of navigating and mediating the policies that surround us, combined with the challenges of unequal funding make the sector a difficult place to work at times. It often feels that policy makers and ministers struggle to fully understand the sector. This makes it an incredibly important mission to grow and nurture our own talent to be reflective, confident and passionate leaders. Role modelling and mentoring good leadership from within makes an important contribution to that.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.