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7 Questions on Leadership with Talib Mandan

Name: Talib Mandan

Title: Head of Upper School

Organisation: Town School for Boys

I am a passionate educator and successful leader with 20 years of experience (10 years as Headteacher) in the UK and internationally at leading high-performing schools. I have worked in the UK, the Philippines, Singapore, Bangkok, and now in the USA.

I am passionate about Technology as a vehicle to enhance learning, Global Citizenship, use of data to inform learning, Formative Assessment Approaches, and coaching/mentoring new/upcoming leaders.

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

I hope Talib's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Leadership is very much about managing/inspiring and influencing others. I don't think I fully grasped this at the start and I would say much leadership training and professional qualifications, certainly in the past, did not really focus on how to get the best from your team. I am pleased to say I think that is changing with a much greater focus on EQ and Teambuilding.

An area I have found particularly challenging is being a leader from a minority group internationally. I was brought up a Muslim, a UK Citizen, of Asian/Persian descent and in a monogamous long-term homosexual relationship. There are not too many with that particular combination! I found that in certain countries not being white British was a barrier to firstly achieving leadership positions and when in role, not being stereotyped. I have unfortunately experienced issues where parents/board members have asked me what part of India I am from (I've only been to Delhi for two days in my life and suffered rather severe Delhi belly!) and if English was my first language. I once introduced myself to a prominent school sponsor as a Headteacher but was asked if they could meet the 'real' British Headteacher!

Finally, the challenge of being gay and working internationally is not always easy. It can certainly limit your access in terms of where you can work. I remember going for a Head of School role in a country where unfortunately homosexuality is still illegal (there remain too many places where this is the case) and feeling pressure to not be open about my sexuality. I referred to my partner on numerous occasions and although some candidates were open about there family life, I was picked up on and told that 'referring to the term partner' when answering suggests I'm gay and I should do this less. In addition, there is the logistical challenge of my partner obtaining visa. We definitely are still quite far from equality

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I'm not sure I ever really thought about becoming leader when I started teaching, just surviving! But really early on, a Deputy Head in my first proper job so something in me, coached, guided, nurtured and supported me. I will forever be grateful for her inspiration and I'm not sure I would have been the leader I am today or had the roles I have without her confidence and mentorship. I try to replicate this with others.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Being a Head of School it can always be rather unpredictable! I have plan for the day usually set from the day before; admin tasks to complete (currently preparing coffee morning slides), meeting to lead/be part of, people to check in one etc. Usually by 8.30am the plan is out of the window! What usually gets pushed are admin tasks so I try to do these at the weekend or afterschool. I'm not one for arriving too early but happy to work late.

I try to prioritise my tasks and use my unread emails as a bit of to do list. My goal is to get my emails down to less than 5 before the end of the day.

I try to do most of my work 'on site' but yeah, definitely catch up at home, especially currently as I adapt to a new role and school.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I would say I am intermittently reminded of how in a leadership position you have an incredible opportunity and power to influence culture, mindset and even the mood of others. While an interaction with a student, parent, staff member may be one of so many you have ina day, for them, that interaction could be so very important and meaningful. It's a challenge to always give your best to all you meet, but something I do try to remind myself regularly about.

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?

Mindset by Craol Dweck! I definitely had and maybe still have ins some areas somewhat of a Fixed Mindset particrly when it comes to taking feedback not personally and a means to grow. I'm definitely getting better with age but my immediate response to feedback can still be challenging! I do try and revisit it though and consider what I can learn rather than perhaps simply dismissing it in my younger days or being overly defensive.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

There is no rush! take your time to learn all the skills required. Someone once said to me (and I very much agree) going from subject/class taecher to a leader is like going from being a specialist to a generalist. Leading is multifaceted from being on top of admin, to managing people, juggling issues, leading change, being staretegic yet operational etc It take time to master and you are continually learning and growing, if you allow yourself to hear the messages and reflect. It's also ok to take the time to grow.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

In my first Headship, a few days in, I went out to the PE Field to observe this Football Coach we had hired deliver a PE lesson. I have never seen something so terrible! I remember at the time saying to my deputy we needed to do something and this guy would not last long. I met with the coach and gave him some pretty tough feedback. To my amazement, he was so very receptive, hung on every word and thanked me at the end! If it was me, I probably would have cried! Over the next few years, I took it upon myself to coach and develop him. Together we formulated a career plan. He obtained a first-class degree, got his teaching license, became an incredibly strong Director of Sports and even became my assistant head in another school when I moved on. I am so very proud of him and he remains a model for how those with a Growth mindset can achieve limitless potential with hard work and being receptive to well-intended guidance. It also taught me to be relentless and never give up on colleagues. Those who want to can always develop.

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