Mastering the art of 'hurrying slowly'

by Emma Bone
water splash
14 Sep 2017

Mastering the art of ‘hurrying slowly’

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Emma Bone is the Executive Head of Ilsham and Warberry Church of England Academies, and the Head of Academy at Warberry, for the Learning Academy Partnership, which is a Multi-Academy Trust consisting of seven schools based in Torbay and South Devon. 

‘Festina Lente” literally means “Make haste slowly,” and is accredited to the first Emperor Augustus.’ It is thought to have been something of a personal philosophy for the Emperor, who employed it in his political and military dealings, preferring to make his way slowly into each successive province nearby until he had conquered the world.

Like most leaders, especially school leaders, I spent  precious time over the summer break recharging, relaxing and enjoying family time but I also dedicated time, as I do every holiday, to leadership reading. Literature, carefully chosen or recommended, to facilitate an aspect of my leadership development that I feel needs that nourishment. Within the MAT, that I am enormously privileged to be part of, professional nourishment is part of our core offer and leadership reading is widely shared and regularly discussed.

A recurring area of development for my own leadership, cropping up as an appraisal target and the focus of numerous coaching conversations is that of knowing when to kerb the urge to ‘crack on.’ When to hit the accelerate button and when to motor more slowly and embed. I know that I need to get the balance right – both in order to support my own leadership development in a new role but, and most crucially, for the teams that I work with. It was imperative that I dedicated some quality time to examining that aspect of my leadership style that is undoubtedly my dominant and default setting. I began to wonder if it was, indeed possible, to re-programme that setting, if you like, or at the very least be more aware of it and harness it as a tool to be used more sparingly and incisively in school improvement.

New to Executive Headship in 2016, my learning journey has been steep and challenging but ultimately hugely rewarding. I took on Headship of a large primary academy at this time and Executive Headship over this academy and the smaller academy where I had previously been Head. The ‘crack on’ style of leadership, ‘get it done’ has served me well and has undoubtedly resulted in excellent outcomes (in the top 10% of all schools nationally for the last 6 years for both achievement and attainment). This year, a brand new SLT was established and exceptional outcomes were achieved once again in a new academy. That style of leadership, in that sense, has served us well but I felt an increasing need to not just add other tools to my armoury but fully understand that dominant need in my own personality and recognise the triggers and learn when to use and when not to!

It was during a coaching session with a fellow Executive Head within our Trust that I first heard the term that was to become my summer focus: ‘Festina Lente.’ A seed was planted and new reading material was sourced. Paradoxically, I find it incredibly difficult to talk about myself, as a leader, in isolation (our MAT so embraces system leadership and team that I know no other way) and yet a deep-rooted fear within me always worries that if I haven’t remembered something it will get forgotten or may not been done in the way I might wish. Control freak!

‘The world will keep turning even without you. Let go of the idea that your way is the only way, that you are only one who can make it happen.
‘The Things You Can See Only When you Slow Down’ Haemin Sunim

Well this is obvious isn’t it?  I certainly don’t believe that I am omnipotent and yet I do fall this into this trap. As a leader my absolute focus on growing new leaders who will be better leaders than myself to serve the communities…so why the struggle? Why the innate desire to ‘crack on’ to try and micro-manage, double check all? If I know that this isn’t the way, which I do deep down, why… at some point every year do I fall into that trap?

Over the course of this year my aim is to blog regularly sharing my leadership journey both in terms of Executive Headship (there is so little reading material out there about this role? Why?) and also in terms of my own leadership focus: ‘Festina Lente’ and the development of my team and our wider middle leaders across our Trust.

I am going to keep returning to Haemin Sunim and a book recommended by Stephen Logan – ‘Destination Simple’ Everyday Rituals for a slower life.

I will sign off with this thought; against the backdrop that I am also moving house next week!

‘No matter what we do, the top button of our business must be fastened properly.  If we think, “I’ll do it this way for now and fix it later,” it usually does not happen, because later we may not have the motivation to fix it, or we just get used to the way it is.  It is like moving into a house and deciding to fix it up over time.  Even after many years, we never get around to fixing it up. We end up just living with the way things are for a long time’. (Haemin Sunim)

The irony of the moving house is not lost! ‘Hurry slowly’ but our children only get one chance at education and even one year of inadequate teaching has hugely detrimental effects on children future health and wellbeing.