Name: Nick Soar
Title: Executive Principal
Organisation: Harris Federation of Academies
A passionate advocate and lover of theatre, hiking, cinema in all its myriad, novels, poetry, the vast outdoor landscapes of nature and in my day to day vocation a senior Executive leader in education working for the Harris Federation, the most successful large Trust of inner city state schools in the UK
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Nick's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
The most challenging aspect of school leadership over the last 28 years is trying to remember that even while you can surround yourself with big brains and innovative thinkers and those who will inspire you and stimulate the team to be ever better, there remain those around and about who will for whatever reason and no reason try to undermine the good work and the mission. It is a challenge to not get distracted from the ardent work in hand when there are those who exist to often subvert and undermine a project. One always has to be on the look out for the unexpected and the unexploded bombs on the journey of leadership.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
It depends what one means in this question. All teachers are themselves leaders of mini-schools. Each class is a tight team if run correctly of 25-30 team mates. You are at that level and when you enter the teaching profession a leader of learning, a subject expert and specialist in your discipline. You lead the knowledge of geography and chemistry of Literature and raise the profile of that subject. Teaching in a classroom taught me so much about leadership and gave me such confidence to stand tall and balance target driven agenda with what is possible and the art of the possible.
In more explicit and obvious ways I became a leader as a Head of the English Faculty at a boarding school just west of London in the last 1990s. It was a close run thing at 24 years old to leap into that position but the director of studies who interviewed me and I hit it off over discussion of a Martin Amis novel and the writer Toni Morrison and the rest was history! And that connecting with someone at interview and through the process of recruitment has been a common theme. When I first became a senior leader in a state run school I connected with an inspector of that school who recommended me for the post and we brought about such positive change together. And that also applied to my post recent leadership role in 2016 where the CEO came to spend a day at my then employer and observe me in action.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My days and weeks vary. Because I oversee and manage 3 schools and have some input into others across London each day is both a practice of emergency fire fighting and conscious planned project management. My days begin at 5am when I wake and do 30 minutes of yoga before showering and shaving and choosing the tie for that day. The colour of the tie and the socks and the choice of cufflinks set my mood for me in some ways, or vice versa. My breakfast is often skipped, but it is porridge or mango and museli where I can. I begin emailing and replying to texts from about 6am and this carries on through the day. Some days I dont know which school I will go to until 8/9am, but I am always en route to one of them by around 6:20am. I work through a task list that has been built from Sunday night each day and respond to grenades that are brought to me to resolve or tour the schools looking for ways to assist and observe. Much of my day is spent advising, coaching, guiding other headteachers or writing and analysing data and or reports submitted to me.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
That even though action plans, self-evaluations, lists and task plans get destroyed or overruled they are still worth doing!
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?
TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Conant and Norgaard)
This book made concrete something I had naturally done for most of my career and reassured me that relational leadership and the gelling together of people is the best bet in making an institution work well over the long term
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Be patient - dont rush, but never dont be active to try to make change
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I think that in schools there are many different constituencies to get right, a myriad of stakeholders to forge into one mission and I think any story in this manner has to focus on the way in which working in an inner city area of poverty and deprivation you have to be both a political mover with mayors, councillors, parliamentarians and PR people, but also be at ease with your academics and scholars and teachers, but in the main core of this to be critically connected to the families and most of all the children you serve. I recall one story here of attending a complaint from a resident in a 20 storey tower block where one student had smashed the door down to attack another resident's daughter. It was chaos and rage was everywhere in the stairwell and in the resident's front room. It was a mess of chairs thrown over and blood on the carpet. As a teacher one might never go there, but the work I was doing was to change not just one class, but as a headteacher to transform the reputation of the school and the relationships between different religions and different social groups in that part of East London. Spending a week visiting and calling on doors to resolve the complaint taught me much about how a personal wading into that world was the only way to change our student's approach to life and the tower block's approach to our school