Who Do you think you are?

by Steven Miles

My work, at times, can be all-consuming. This, I suspect, is an experience and a perception shared by all senior leaders in schools everywhere, not to mention also by teachers and most other educational professionals. Indeed, during particularly busy periods – such as those end-of-term weeks when there can be something happening every single afternoon which keeps you at work and away from home for most of the day – the following accusation is often levelled at me: work is more important to you than your family.

It is not, for the record. But it is still really important to me and I will always give it everything I have got. Something I struggled with for a while, and which I think I’m a little better at now (although my family may still disagree), is building a wall between work stuff and home stuff. Both are me, and both are hugely interlinked, but both are also very separate worlds and need to be treated as such if both are to be successful, in my opinion.

My identity, you see, is outwardly distinct in both worlds. At home, I am a dad (although not to my wife, just to be clear!), and at work, I am either Steven or Mr. Miles (many colleagues seem more comfortable referring to me as the latter, which is fine by me). To me, I am essentially the same person in both places, but there is definitely a professional mask which I wear whilst I am at work that I need to always remember to remove when I leave school and come home again. 

Is Your Ego in Control?

I have never been one for either titles or hierarchies. I acknowledge the importance of clear line management structures in professional settings and how vital it can be that everyone in a position of authority is able to perform their role competently and collegiately, but it always gets on my nerves when people change their behaviours dramatically according to their job titles and begin to treat others with anything less than the utmost respect. Your title at work, in my opinion, is just that: it is a description of what you do. If your title is in any way intertwined with your self-worth or your impression of how important you are compared to those around you, then your identity is being compromised by your overactive ego, in my view. 

Who you are at work is not who you really are, essentially. More than anything, that is the point I am trying to make in this blog. If your self-esteem is intricately tied upyour CV, your job history or what you deem to be your future prospects in your profession, then you may have a slightly fragile sense of self. Any success you experience in the professional sphere, as wonderful as it may be (and I mean that genuinely), is not who you actually are; instead, it is simply a fleeting moment in time, something which happened and which you can recall at your pleasure rather than being something which defines you either now or at any point in your life. 

Are You Seeking Validation?

One of the problems, you see, with chasing success and validation in a professional sense – especially if this is linked with your perception of your own personal identity – is what you then do when the well of admiration and kudos inevitably dries up. What you have done, basically, is partner your self-worth with external factors which may be mostly out of your control. A better and much more sustainable strategy, surely, would be for your self-worth to be linked to things that you can actually do something about, such as your health, happiness and general wellbeing. With experience, I know that the professional domain can be a pretty ruthless place at times, particularly if you find yourself in a tricky spot in a challenging organisation during a period of tumult, so the last thing I would ever recommend would be for anyone’s self-worth to be held hostage to the frequent pivots of this cut-throat arena.

As much as the professional and personal worlds are distinct, and as much as I definitely do wear a mask at work to some extent, I have also come to learn that there needs to be a great deal of authenticity in how I behave in my professional role. My colleagues need to know me and trust me as a person, so I need to show them who I am as often as I can. I do not and I won’t let my ego conflate my professional role with my genuine identity, so my decisions at work are still coming from the values which govern me as a person at all times. 

How You Behave When Everyone is Watching You

What this also does is help me to avoid performative or insincere behaviours. Instinctively, in my opinion, most people can see right through this kind of act and quite rightly begin to feel uncomfortable when they sense that they are on the receiving end of a professional performance. When all that professionals have is either an impenetrable corporate shell or – at the other end of the scale – an over-zealous best-friends act then positive and purposeful professional relationships are difficult to develop and the kind of climate where professionals can flourish becomes a challenge to cultivate. 

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I learned a bit along the way about how to better acknowledge my genuine identity and how to blend this with my professional persona, but it took a while for me to get good at this. When you first become a head or a principal, your colleagues treat you differently, everyone is watching you and the community you lead has certain expectations of you, so it can definitely require some considerable thought and practice before you are comfortable with all aspects of your new professional identity and how this seeps into other parts of your life.

Perhaps the hardest part will always be whenever there is something challenging going on in either the personal or the professional world, which is often the case for most people. Dealing with something incredibly difficult whilst trying to keep the other part as normal as possible can be tough, but it is essential that one world does not bleed too heavily into the other. Too much work at home upsets the balance, as too does too much home at work.

Let’s recap. Your professional title is not who you really are, so don’t let your ego conflate your role with your identity. Similarly, do not allow your self-worth to be reliant upon either professional success or validation from others, because when either, or both, are no longer present then things will become very difficult for you. Your professional and personal worlds are separate, but both should include authentic versions of who you are.

Steven Miles is the Principal at Doha British School, Qatar

To connect with Steven on LinkedIn, click here

LYIS is proud to partner with TIC Recruitment

The waiting is now over for those of you who want to pre-order. 

Starting Your International School is now available to order on Amazon and all good bookstores. You can order today and ensure that when the book is released on the 1st of July you don’t have to wait long to enjoy its informed guidance. 

Available at: 

Amazon: https://shorturl.at/MhoP9

Angus and Robertson: https://lnkd.in/ekqDwuag 

Barnes and Noble: https://shorturl.at/f1ruW

Shelf Life Books: https://lnkd.in/e9WANTjm 

Thrift Books: https://lnkd.in/e75raTUy 

Waterstones: https://shorturl.at/dPCq4

3 thoughts on “<strong>Who Do you think you are?</strong>”

  1. I really do like the idea of degrees of separation between work and home. I also concur about titles and their illegitimate use – particularly through ‘Empire Builders’. Titles can be a good way of retaining for example, but they should never be attached to such great importance and others in your school should always genuinely believe (where possible) that they have the opportunity of attaining such a title.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Steven! Your insights on maintaining a healthy work-life balance and staying true to yourself in both spheres are valuable for all leaders.

  3. What I love about this is its philosophical approach to leadership. I am deeply convinced that leadership is a philosophical activity and that the quality of our school leadership is linked to the quality of our reflection. Philosophical tools are mirrors to help us to reflect on the sources of our ideas and actions. We encourage teachers to be ‘reflective practitioners’. Leaders should be ‘reflective philosophers’ capable of inquiring into their own practices. A mirror which I return to again and again is the Chinese classic, the ‘ dàodéjīng’, especially these lines, ‘ The Leader doesn’t talk, he/she acts. When her/ his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!” – Dao De Jing, Poem 17.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *