West Midlands Regional Leader: Kathryn Morgan

Leadership Biography

Name: Kathryn Morgan

Phase: Primary

Role: Acting Deputy Head

Sector: State

Region: West Midlands

Years Served in Education: 11

Leadership Journey:

Science subject leader, year group leader, maths leader, MaST, NPQML, NCETM PD Lead, Assistant Head, Acting Deputy Head, Deputy Head

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: Lolly Daskal, Susan Scott, Bill George

Twitter Handle: @KLMorgan_2

Blog: https://staffrm.com/@kathryn22

Leadership Reflections

Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?

In a world that can sometimes feel as though it is dominated by a society of people with their heads down, staying in their lane; only thinking about their own journey that is laid out before them, a grassroots organisation such as WomenEd offers a refreshing alternative to the status-quo. Sometimes life can be so busy and hectic that we forget to pause, to take a breath and to look up.

I’m a firm believer that your life is either defined by the system or by the way you defy the system. For me, I choose the latter. WomenEd has enabled me to do this by empowering me to find my voice; to change my lane and have the belief that I can do so, freely. The choice is mine. The direction is not fixed. Courage is contagious and volunteering with WomenEd will enable me to positively affect a much wider world than just that of my own.

The word volunteer (noun) is defined as: a person who works for an organisation without being paid. This is an interesting definition because it very much depends upon what you believe the true currency of voluntary work to be. Do you remember that feeling in class when your teacher would ask for a volunteer to give something out and a room full of hands would shoot up? From the youngest of ages, human beings have an innate desire to serve, to give back; to help others. There are hidden, undiscovered gems in all of us. What a wonderful feeling it is to support another to find their gems.

Yes, it is not about receiving monetary rewards, the real value of volunteering is in the overwhelming satisfaction you feel through seeing someone else, often someone who you did not know very well prior to volunteering, fulfil their goals, their dreams; their talents. It’s about relationships, connectivity and above all, giving something back to society. For me personally, I’m volunteering to contribute to the WomenEd community because I want to be part of a movement that has a relentless drive to ensure that gender equality is truly at the heart of our society, in our workplaces, our relationships, our conversations and in the way we view ourselves and most importantly, each other.

Why is it important for us to engage #HeForShe advocates?

We are all capable of being agents of change. The message for gender equality is one that must be spoken by all genders, all ages and all nationalities. But it is so much more than just a message; just words. It is a deep-rooted belief, an understanding that we are all equal and that the only thing that truly divides us is our acceptance or non-acceptance of ‘the system’, the way things have been, the way things could be; should be.

For the WomenEd mission to really defy ‘the system’, it is incredibly important that we mobilise as many #HeForShe advocates as is possible to help to shift the perspective and make lasting changes to the gender equality landscape. This is not about the fall of man and the rise of women but instead the true partnership of man and woman; one that has been forged in mutual respect and admiration.

Many, many generations of male leaders have been successful because of the strong women who have been standing behind them, bringing up their children and looking after their homes. This is true of my mother, a very intelligent lady, who gave up teaching to bring up my sisters and I whilst my Dad, also very intelligent, went on to be a very well-considered and successful medical physicist in the NHS. There is no doubt in my mind that although my Dad was incredibly hardworking and driven, he wouldn’t have gone on to achieve the accolades he did if it weren’t for the sacrifices that my Mother made. Despite her being in my eyes the best Mum in the world, she is not unique in her sacrifices. There are millions of women whose physical and mental fortitude far exceed what many of us deem possible. There is a wealth of undiscovered and therefore untapped potential across the globe and we need an army of both women and men to discover it.

How do you maintain a work life balance?

At present, work-life balance is one of the most talked about topics. Whilst there’s no doubt that external pressures have significantly impacted upon working patterns, I believe that there is much more to it than that. Teaching, like other public sector professions such as medicine, is forged by a moral bound duty to be in-service of others, the children we teach, the communities we work in and the teams that we lead. I believe that it is this longstanding moral code of conduct that often causes us to find it very difficult to draw a line in the working day, with much of the ‘work’ spiraling into peoples’ personal time. Therefore, it is incredibly important that we as colleagues unite within the profession and make a conscious and determined effort to ensure that a real balance exists.

My understanding of balance was really challenged when I attended the ‘One Woman Conference’ in London, back in September last year. The conference invited women from all walks of life such as: business owners, corporate leaders, mangers and mums; activists and action takers to unite under a shared understanding that when women find the courage to step up to the level they feel called to, the whole world benefits. It was here that I first became aware that striving to be ‘super-woman’, the archetypal fictional character, is actually very damaging to us as individuals and women as a whole.

There is a perception that a key component of today’s stressful lifestyle for working women is the vague notion of “having it all.” Although there is no clear-cut definition for what it means to “have it all,” there is a pressing expectation for women to maintain high-functioning, fulfilling lives at both work and at home. The result is significantly increasing stress levels for working women and a desire for some women to go in search of lower-paying opportunities that offer a better ‘balance’.

Therefore, work-life balance for me is about making an active decision that it is perfectly acceptable to say ‘no, sorry but I can’t do this right now,’or ‘I’ve done all that I need to for today’. For me, having a balance is having a career that I am incredibly passionate about, enabling me to be in-service of others; a loving and supportive family and group of friends. None of these can be achieved if I’m  running on empty.  It is about really reflecting upon the value that we bring to ourselves, our families and our teams. Are we adding value or are we subtracting it because we are trying to do it all?

Sometimes we get busy and we forget to make the time. Many times we are subtracting value without even realising it. It is always about being mindful of this and asking yourself if you are adding or subtracting. The key is in finding the time to ground yourself daily in the things that are most important to you. For me it’s my family, my friends, my passions, my team and my leadership. Stop and think.

How do you combat the imposter syndrome?

After reading about the imposter syndrome, I began to reflect upon different times in my life when I could identify having experienced a debilitating attack of limiting self-beliefs. Times when I’ve felt I had a good idea but someone was bound to have a better one. Times when I’ve let the voice in my head speak louder than the voice in my heart, ‘You’re going to get found out soon…you don’t have all of the answers…they will realise that you’re not the right person for the job…’ I could go on.

I began to think carefully about how I had felt during these times and considered the impact on how I had behaved as a consequence. For me personally, I recognise that when I feel like ‘the imposter’, it brings along its friend ‘self-deprecation’. When at its worst, I can fall into the trap of over-playing strengths to try to compensate for the true way I feel. With this comes a whole host of misunderstanding. In many ways, the imposter syndrome reminds me of a shadow, always there, mirroring our every move. Sometimes we notice our shadow, sometimes we don’t. But it’s always there. We just need to remember who is in control.

There’s no doubt that at some point we will all have a visit from our imposter shadow. However, rather than seeing this shadow as a negative, I like to view it as an important part of who we are. If we choose to acknowledge this part of us, truly owning it and working with it then I believe the self-learning produces the deepest form of heart-based leadership. It is inevitable that as human beings, we all have insecurities and these will be triggered by a wide range of different factors. However, how we deal with them is a choice. We can choose to acknowledge our imposter shadow and use it as an opportunity for growth. Or we can display our shadow without self-awareness and allow our shadow to do the talking.

There’s no denying that this isn’t an easy feat. It takes a lot of self-searching and self-control but I honestly believe it is worth it. As a leader, it all begins with you. In order to do this, you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. First acknowledge your insecurities and then embrace them as an important part of who you are. Throughout this process there will inevitably be many ups and downs along the way but inward learning about your insecurities is part of our personal and leadership development.

After attending Viv Grant’s workshop back in March at the West Midlands LeadMeet, I began to think more deeply about how the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape and form our realities. When in the full-swing of a busy life, it is easy to allow these stories to act in a similar way to an untamed beast, wild and unpredictable. At times they can appear vicious but when you stop and really try to understand the behaviour, you realise that it is often because they are misunderstood, feeling vulnerable, feeling fearful. With such a rampant concoction of emotions, it is incredibly important to develop a set of tools to help us navigate these times so that we remain the storyteller, recognising that the words we speak to ourselves have the most powerful impact upon our confidence self-belief and fundamentally, self-worth.

In order to cope with the imposter syndrome, I’m making a conscious effort to do the following.  Firstly, to pay attention and carry out self-inquiry. I’m working hard to acknowledge my insecurities, to gain confidence in knowing what they are and where they might have come from. It’s no easy task and requires great self-reflection but the more I do so, the more I feel comfortable with them. Nancy Kline’s ‘A Time to Think’ opened my eyes to the importance of listening to ourselves and our inner stores. Time needs to be invested in trying to figure out what our insecurities are revealing. They come from a deep place within and so it requires deep listening to be able to hear them. If this is something that you are having trouble doing alone then seek a coach or trusted advisor to help you articulate your thoughts and hear your story from within.

Secondly, once you begin to feel more comfortable with accepting your insecurities as a valuable means to lead with our hearts then we can begin to break the habits. Thinking carefully about how we feel and behave when we are visited by our imposter shadow will enable us to adopt new habits that resolve our insecurities and showcase our hearts to those we lead. Personal development is not easy; it takes courage and bravery to navigate the rough seas of our insecurities. However, we each become equipped with our own life-jackets which show up the minute that we begin to forgive ourselves.

Finally there’s a need for self-forgiveness, the hardest human discipline of all. Once we become aware that our imposter shadow is upon us, we need to make a conscious decision to forgive ourselves for simply being human and know that through our self-awareness and forgiveness we can do better. We can always feel better. Learning to overcome of insecurities is one of the greatest journeys in life. As leaders, when we are honest about our insecurities and embrace our vulnerability, we understand that as the person grows so does the leader. Let our inner narratives flourish but remember that it is us who are in control of turning the pages.

What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

Day in, day out, the lives we lead and the people we meet help to shape our personal code of conduct. It is a process that will be taking place both consciously and unconsciously. We see or experience first-hand the unfair actions of others and think ‘I’d never do that’. Or we see or receive an act of kindness and store it away, thinking ‘I want to be like that’. Overtime, these individual events fuse together to form the principles that we live by, our values. They enable us to be our true authentic self.

There is a wealth of debate on what good leadership looks like. It all starts and ends from within you. As a leader, my values are my guiding light, my anchor; my inner satellite navigation. The litmus test for any decision is whether or not it aligns with my values, my ‘True North’ and integrity is everything.

First and foremost, as leaders, we need to hold ourselves accountable, just as we would others. In order to do this, we must assess our leadership from time to time. Self-reflection provides the quality assurance of our values – are we walking the walk or just talking it? When we stop and consider how we measure up, we are opening ourselves up for change and growth. However, for self-reflection to take place, we also need to display self-awareness. First and foremost, who are we? What do we believe? What do we value?

As I’ve said, integrity is everything for me. How we treat others is a really clear example of who we are as a leader. I strongly believe that relationships and trust should be at the epicentre of a leader’s mindset and actions. Put simply, people matter and demonstrating this to them, on a daily basis also matters. For this to take place, actions and thinking has to align.

The work of Susan Scott (Fierce Conversations) has helped me to reflect upon and truly understand this in more detail. ‘Be prepared to be here and nowhere else,’ really struck a chord with me. On a daily basis, how many snatched conversations do we have with colleagues? How often are we already engaged in something else when we suddenly stop because we’ve been interrupted or perhaps we do the interrupting? There is a real need to give each other our undivided attention; to focus in on the other person and take the time to really listen. Listen to understand not to respond. This is something that I’m currently working on.

In giving colleagues our time, we are acknowledging them and their efforts. Expressing gratitude helps people to feel valued both within their roles and as human-beings. It shows that we care about them and so in showing kindness and respect, we create memorable connections.

Support is also a key component to building positive relationships with those who we serve. For me, support can come in many different forms and is often dependent upon the person in receipt of the support and the context. I don’t believe that support is about giving someone the answers, but instead it is about asking the right questions so that they find the answers. This enables us as leaders to face challenges with our colleagues. It is important to believe in those who we serve and show them that they can be even better than they thought they could.

Encouraging others to do what they think they cannot is, for me, one of the greatest aspects of leadership. In order for others to do this, we must create a climate where we encourage colleagues to take risks; to learn from mistakes. In order for this to happen, we must believe in them, not just a little but whole-hearted belief. By recognising who they are and who they could become will inspire others to not only perform better but to be better. They matter. You matter. We matter. Choose your values and live confidently in your authentic self.

What has helped you progress in your leadership career?

I have been fortunate enough to have worked for 5 different headteachers, all of whom have had very different personalities and leadership styles. This has been fundamental in my own leadership progress. With each headteacher has come a different perspective but also some commonalities. Our experiences and the people we meet help to shape who we are. With all of the different leaders, be they headteachers, deputies, assistant heads and middle leaders, I have come to recognise the significant importance of one quality in particular, that of being a seeker.

A seeker is someone who is not content to settle for the status-quo. Instead, they seek out new ways of working. This is not to say that seekers are dismissive of experience, quite the contrary, instead they use it as a platform to search for excellence with integrity and character. As a leader, your main concern is not to avoid failure or to live in success but to always seek more meaning, growth and development. I believe that it is this that has encouraged me to seek out new opportunities, new connections and new ideas. With these experiences have come new opportunities.

Seeking isn’t just about finding new things; it’s also about understanding who you are. Seek to understand your true character. Think carefully about your skills and unique gifts, appreciate and inquire. Seek your unique qualities. There have been many times when I have had to navigate negative situations that are filled with distorting facts. Always seek the truth and above all else, speak with honesty. Seek your own core values. Seek to be trusted. Seek a compelling vision. Seek to share your knowledge. Seek forgiveness and recognise that we all make mistakes. It’s about bettering the lives of others, being part of something bigger than yourself and making a positive difference. Seeking something bigger than myself has kept me focused, kept me curious and kept me humble. The internal progress has enabled the external leadership progress.

Leadership Advice

There are many wonderful colleagues who have shaped me as a person and as a leader. One piece of advice that has really struck a chord with me because it resonates so deeply with my core values is:

‘If we are truly in service of others then we need more compassion and less judgment for ourselves and those who we lead.’

This has encouraged me to seek the truth to understand rather than to blame. To ask questions to understand rather than to make assumptions. To see the bigger picture through the eyes of others rather than from my perception only. And to remember that most problems can be solved with an authentic conversation. The leader who told me this is one of the most fiercely authentic people I know.

Leadership Inspiration

I’m currently reading Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

“It provides the skill set and strategy for creating high levels of collaboration and partnership throughout an organisation which leads to increased engagement, transparency, accountability and deeper relationships.”

Cathy Benson, Director of Global Learning, Starbucks

Leadership Mantra

Leadership is the sum total of who you are. Leaders are developed not simply born and we can all develop ourselves to be able to guide others. Anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader.

Bill George,  True North – Discover Your Authentic Leadership

2 thoughts on “West Midlands Regional Leader: Kathryn Morgan

  1. A significantly reflective and comprehensive insight into the life and values of an individual who is clearly about service. The best writing provokes new learning and this comes from the desire to ‘seek’ as Kathryn expresses with eloquent precision. When reading this, it is impossible not to apply some reflection to your own values and practical application. Do we actually live the values, vision, beliefs and ideals we profess to hold? Are sure and how do we know? This is a fabulous thinkpiece for leaders at all levels to truly examine your own truth. Loved it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great to read this, Kathryn!

    Your comment “Many times we are subtracting value without even realising it. It is always about being mindful of this and asking yourself if you are adding or subtracting” reminded me of this, by Jason Ramasami. Have you seen it? Worth three minutes of your time, if not! https://vimeo.com/130382402


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