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7 More Questions on Leadership with Paul Donnelly

Name: Paul Donnelly

Title: Associate Principal

Organisation: Rangiora High School

I hold the position of Associate Principal at Rangora High School. It is a co-head school of 1600 students and approximately 250 staff.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.

I hope Paul’s answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?

This takes time to develop, patience with yourself and others is critical. In my experience, it is the little things or the insignificant actions that count, a smile, a kind word, or just being present with others when things are not going well. Listening to others without judgement.

2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?

A vision is an infinite concept, it is bigger than the organisation or self. It inspires/invites the employees/leaders to be creative or imaginative. The mission encapsulates is the actions/strategies/behaviours/beliefs/values in bringing the vision to fruition. The vision and mission provide the touchstones of the organisation. They provide the organisation with the mechanism to ask critical questions of itself as well as others outside the organisation who can hold the organisation to account for its faithfulness to its vision and mission. Context/Change/Reflection and Renewal are absolutely critical factors in guiding the organisation through the passage of time.

3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?

Expanding the concept of leadership. developing the growth mindset that leading or leadership is not solely tied to a position. Leadership is a mindset. This mindset sees leadership as service, and a critical characteristic of servant leadership is empowerment. Communication, trust in the other, support, encouragement, being present, giving feedback being curious, not judgemental. All these things empower individuals and groups within the organisation.

4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?

I have a supervisor/coach/mentor, who helps me to take timeouts to reflect on my actions and decisions, She holds up a mirror (figuratively) to get me to think deeply, and to look at my own thoughts and feelings. She never tells me what to do or think. I have to do that hard and sometimes challenging work. Ultimately, the answers lie within.

Story: My journey with my coach/mentor, we looked at my work and my relationship to it, what was coming to dawn on me was that I was very unhappy at work and the reason for this was the values, structures and ethos of the organisation I was working in did not a line with mine, so I sat with this realization, talked to my wife and then tendered my resignation. At this point in time I am in this transition of finishing and moving on. And it is strange because I am not too sure where I am going next. I am worried and excited at the same time.

5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?

I constantly reflect on keeping my own integrity intact. Sometimes to be honest it requires developing courage because one has to speak truth to power. Truth and power often do not sit well together. The question that I always ask myself is What am I here for? and this question does keep me focused.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?

Keeping a diary helps. In my experience in education, the school year has "seasons" a bit like nature seasons. Each season has its own characteristics/events/jobs to do/pressures etc. After a little while one sees the pattern, so I can see what is coming ahead, however, there can be disruption and in the last 5 years there has been a lot and existentially it is shaken the institution to the core. From this, we have had to create a new narrative but this has not been an easy task.

7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?

Just do it, take the risk. You cannot control everything and DO NOT micromanage the process. Have checkpoints, ask this one question, How can I help? or I am here if you need help? If things do not go to plan, often that is part of the process. What is critically important is letting others know that you are there for them.

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