Name: James Clanfield
Organisation: Pillar Consultancy Group
Founder of Pillar Consultancy Group, James Clanfield, has over 12 years of experience in a range of different Christian school settings. He has a solid Christian education background, completing both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Christian institutions, including a Master of Arts in Religious Education. James is currently completing his PhD at the University of Notre Dame, with a focus on Christian Education and the preservation of the Christian school ethos. With his depth of research, experience and passion for Christian education, James loves to inspire and empower other Christian educators and leaders to impact their own Christian schools.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope James's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
On a personal level, I've always had a strong drive to rapidly develop my leadership capacity. However, I've come to realise that leadership roles can be all-consuming, making it crucial to strike a balance between my professional and personal life to prevent burnout and ensure overall wellbeing. I must admit that finding this balance hasn't always been easy, and there have been instances where work took precedence over my family and personal life. Recognising this challenge, I've made conscious efforts to improve and manage this aspect of my leadership journey.
Although it's been a learning process, I've gradually become more adept at finding that balance. Prioritising and making time for my personal life has become a priority, and I now understand the importance of nurturing both my professional and personal aspects to thrive as a leader. It's an ongoing journey, but I've gained valuable insights and skills along the way.
Acknowledging and addressing this challenge has allowed me to become a more mindful and compassionate leader, not only for my team but also for myself. I am committed to continuous growth, learning, and refining my leadership approach to ensure that I prioritise my team, myself and my family.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I feel incredibly privileged to have been entrusted with leadership responsibilities from a young age. It all began with leading Youth Groups and Music Ministry teams at my church. As I embarked on my teaching journey, my natural inclination for leadership led me to assume various leadership positions at school.
Starting as an Assistant in Pastoral Roles, I gradually took on more significant responsibilities. In my fifth year of teaching, a leader I greatly admired showed immense faith in me by appointing me as the Head of Department. This was a defining moment in my leadership journey, as it validated my abilities as a young leader and fueled my passion for guiding and empowering others. From here I received more opportunities to grow in my leadership capacity, which I have valued, and learned new skills as a leader.
Being entrusted with leadership roles early on has shaped me into the leader I am today. It instilled in me the importance of trust, mentorship, and believing in the potential of young leaders. I continue to embrace opportunities to grow as a leader and foster an environment that nurtures leadership skills in others.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Each day is different. At the moment I have a focus on completing my PhD, where much of my time around my work is spent completing my writing. Each day starts with a coffee... or a few. Good food is an essential part of the day, as is time connecting with each of my kids. A day usually finishes with
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Completing the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment a few years ago was an eye-opening experience for me as a leader. It provided valuable insights into my strengths and unique qualities, helping me understand my leadership style better. By recognising this, I've been able to approach leadership in a more authentic and effective manner. Emphasising my strengths enables me to play to my natural talents, where most of my strengths falls within the 'relationship' domain.
By understanding this I was able to positively impact my team's dynamics and productivity. Additionally, I've learned the significance of embracing and celebrating the strengths of my team members. As a leader, recognising their dominant strengths and encouraging them to use these strengths not only boosts individual performance but also fosters a collaborative and supportive team culture.
Most important, I've learned that leadership is not about being perfect or knowing everything. I can take advantage of the strengths within my team, and leverage this as we work towards our common goals. For me, it is about continuous growth and learning. By acknowledging my strengths and areas for improvement, I can engage in ongoing self-development, seek feedback, and learn from my experiences and interactions with my team.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I talked earlier about 'balance'. One of the books that has had an impact on me was "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life" by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend.
The books is about setting clear boundaries in your personal and professional life. Learning when to say "no" and communicating your needs effectively in order to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and keep that work-life balance in check. One thing I found super valuable is how the book encourages self-reflection, which is crucial for personal growth and your leadership journey.
Plus, as a leader, respecting your team members' boundaries empowers them and builds trust, resulting in a happier and more motivated team. The book explained how embracing these healthy boundary principles can really improve your decision-making skills and align with your values and priorities.
A main takeaway for me was that boundaries are ok! Your ability to set boundaries and communicate assertively has a ripple effect, positively influencing your team and the whole organisation. It also places us in a position to be most effective by taking control of our lives by setting healthy boundaries.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
It is not all about getting to the top as quickly as you can. Learn, observe, reflect, and grow.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
One meaningful story that stands out from my time as a leader is the one I mention briefly before. When I was new in my teaching career and leadership journey I was given the opportunity to lead a team of fellow educators.
At that time, I greatly admired a senior leader who had a remarkable track record of success and was widely respected by everyone. This senior leader approached me and expressed confidence in my leadership potential. They believed in me and entrusted me with the responsibility of heading a department. It was a moment of validation and encouragement that left a profound impact on me.
As I stepped into the Head of Department role, I faced numerous challenges, but that senior leader's trust in me and constant support inspired my growth. Their belief in my capabilities motivated me to rise to the occasion, even when I felt unsure or overwhelmed. Looking back, that moment of trust and belief was a turning point in my leadership journey.
It taught me the significance of supporting and recognising the potential in young leaders, just as it was done for me. I strive to pay that trust forward by inspiring and empowering those around me, knowing that a single gesture of belief can lead to tremendous growth and achievement.