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The musings of a CEO

The intention of this post is to really understand and unpick the ponderings of a busy Multi-Academy Trust CEO and discover their motivations for wanting to lead their organisation.

I was privileged to spend an hour with Liz Anderson, the CEO of Djanogly Learning Trust to explore these questions and reflect on her thoughts.

As we spoke it became very clear that Djanogly is a very special place to Liz, an organisation that she has been with from its inception, but not always as a its CEO. It was fascinating to watch her levels of animation rise as she spoke about the sense of family created when a group of people share a common set of values and a collective purpose. Thoughtfully reflecting on how this had been strengthened not diminished by the on-going demands of the pandemic in her words we did really pull together so nobody felt on their own. The ability to pick up the phone when you’re struggling for whatever reason and be listened to without judgement, the notion that there’s is just always somebody on the other end of the call whether you’re a head the teacher or the CEO.

It got me thinking about who genuinely listens to me without judgement?

Our conversation naturally moved on to how Liz found herself sitting in what she describes as the big chair. The process explained was one more of evolution rather than revolution.  At its creation Liz was a headteacher in the fledgling MAT but not it’s CEO at that point. After a couple of years, a set of unforeseen circumstances led to the MAT not having a CEO and after a further period of time a new Chair of Trustees, an appointment that brought new perspective from beyond the world of education. That new view offered Liz the opportunity to be CEO, and it was taken. Whilst not advocating the mantle of the hero leader in any way as we chatted, Liz was explicit in her belief that without a leader, an organisation will flounder.

How do you respond to this unequivocal statement?

Having considered her journey so far, the discussion turned to the subject of what was on her mind as a CEO. Her response was immediate and two-fold, the challenges of MAT growth and pressure of SEND provision.

Liz spoke about the demands placed on schools during the pandemic period as being one of enforced consolidation. For her, the last two years had seen Djanogly schools achieve incredible things whilst revealing important learning around the benefits of centralisation balanced with the pivotal importance of ensuring that educationalist are freed to educate. Empowering the infrastructure to free school leaders to lead schools and lead education, ensuring that leaders are trained and retained with prospects within the organisation. How at the heart of this is the importance of growth as a catalyst? No matter how hard you try, unless there are opportunities provided within the MAT then your very best people will seek to develop themselves elsewhere and there will be no openings to invite the very best in from outside either. Ultimately, a glass ceiling could be created that denies the excellence your young people and communities deserve. MAT growth is certainly a priority as this period of consolidation comes to a close.

Do you recognise these challenges in your school or MAT? How do you work to unblock the system when there is inertia within your staff teams?

The other issue that was clearly on Liz’s mind were the pressures currently being created by ensuring adequate provision for increasing numbers of children with SEND needs across the Djanogly schools. Anecdotally, where once it had been existing children on roll receiving their medical diagnosis that increased demand, it was now being heavily impacted by children arriving with significant needs from outside the region and beyond. Not at all surprising as parents are rightly aspirational in wanting the best provision possible for their children. Liz reflected our Trust’s challenge is to continually identify and share our own best practice, but also to recognise the excellence that can be drawn on around us with external partners.

Do these challenges resonate with you? Whose expertise would you draw on?

Our conversation then turned to the future and Liz was very clear about next steps, what’s energising me at the moment is getting back out there and networking… its liberating to just go out and see people, to be more face to face. Rather pessimistically, for someone who is clearly an optimist, Liz reflected on her certainty that more tough times lay ahead for schools. A new equilibrium needs to be found, particularly in light of the new white paper and its possible recommendations and how these will impact the power relationships between MATs, Hubs and Local Authorities, never mind the increased centralisation that is being seen from national government. Definitely food for thought.

Finally returning to her theme of getting back out there, Liz was very clear that if we don’t, then we are in real danger of speaking into our own echo chambers and believing our own group think. By engaging in a wider forum, it just strengthens all of us because I think there will always be turbulent times and it benefits us all to be part of something bigger.

In response to Liz’s call for more in-person networking, Inspiring Leaders are proud to launch our new Trust Leadership Development programmes which will provide a formal opportunities for Trust Leaders (in various roles) to come together to share and learn. More information about our programmes please visit http://inspiringleaderstoday.com/trust-leader-development/

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us to find out more.