Greg Bamford is associate head of school for strategy and innovation at Charles Wright Academy (WA). He has worked in independent schools as a teacher, coach, administrator, consultant, and parent. He is a co-founder of Leadership+Design, a nonprofit that supports educational innovation and leadership development in schools. He was previously head of school at the Watershed School (CO). During his time at Watershed, enrollment grew by 82%. Bamford and a team of collaborators co-founded the Traverse Conference on real-world learning. He has spoken at education conferences as well as written for Independent School magazine, Net Assets, and The Yield. You can find him on Twitter @gregbamford and his blog www.gregbamford.education.
How much planning is involved for someone taking on a leadership position and how much must they figure out "on the job?"
Dwight Eisenhower was reported to have said that "plans are useful, but planning is indispensable." That's true for leaders arriving in new roles, as well. New leaders need a plan for how they're going to be successful in their new role: this should include how they plan to build relationships, learn about their organization, and achieve quick wins. But that plan should be iterative rather than static. The time between getting hired and starting is a ripe time to learn about the history, values, and assumptions of the school. As you learn more, the plan should change. When you start the role, you'll find what works and what doesn't. That, too, should alter your plans. My last two schools had very different cultures, only some of which was visible before I got there: you'll get a lot of credibility if you adjust along the way, and make that process of learning transparent with your team.
What was the most helpful support you received from more experienced leaders?
Specific, descriptive, timely feedback. It's hard to get, but I empathize with why it doesn't happen more often: leaders are often afraid of conflict or giving offense, so we avoid the conversation, or we go vague, or we deliver it after it's built up and it's really too late. You really have to ask for it. The leaders who've supported me the most are those who treat feedback as a conversation, rather than an event. Of course, if you want to benefit from this as an emerging leader, you also have to work on your ability to receive feedback - not just listening to it or even avoiding defensiveness, but getting curious about it, asking questions, and checking for understanding. Thanks for the Feedback is a great primer to improving this cycle on both sides.
What was the biggest surprise as a leader?
My biggest surprise as a leader was how much less important my goals were than I thought they were. That still feels like heresy to write: having clear goals and moving toward them is key for success and for school improvement. But on a day to day basis, the people in my school community care more about my ability to be present for them, their wins, their worries, and their goals than they do about a relentless march toward certain organizational objectives. When someone comes into my office, am I able to stop thinking about whatever I've been worrying about, and be present for whatever's happening for them? When I walk down the hall, am I present for the humming life of the school rather than thinking about the next meeting? Do we take time to celebrate each other and our wins, rather than moving on to what's next? I wish this were instinctual for me. But the good news is that leadership is a set of embodied behaviors. It can be coached and practiced.