This is the third article in my series written for the teacher stepping into a new role.  My hope is that this series of articles will help you smoothly transition into your new role and start kicking goals quickly. Leadership is still leadership, so if you are not a teacher, what I have written here will equally apply to you.

In my first article, I wrote about getting clarity around your new role and setting you up for a meeting with your manager to make sure you are both on the same page. How did that meeting go? Last week I wrote about developing collegiate relationships with those around you, in your team, with your manager and most importantly with the people who are at the same level of the organisation. I am hoping you have started to make connections, had a few coffees and a few comfortable exchanges as you passed through offices. This week, the focus is on stepping up and out of your comfort zone, the safe space of tasks and areas that you know well. These articles are based on ideas expressed by Michael Watkins in his book, The First 90 Days. I encourage you to buy it, in hard copy, and read it from cover to cover and make yourself notes all over it.

In your application for your new role, you will have written about and talked to the projects you have managed, or the initiatives you have taken or how you have met the various interpersonal challenges when dealing with colleagues, parents and students. All of that got you the job. These are your strengths and usually the things that you like to do, because you know them and have practiced the necessary skills. You will know that in all the work that you do there are some aspects you really enjoy and get lost in, sometimes for hours, and then there are those aspects that you know need to be done, and you put them off for as long as you can. In your new role there will more tasks that are new and different, that you haven’t done before and may not know how to do and they push and test your skills and knowledge. Just as well, you have started to build those relationships with others in the same level as you in your organization as these people will be able to help you to get a handle on those tasks where some assistance is needed.

You got the job because of your strengths but relying too much on what made you successful in the past can be fatal, according to Michael Watkins in The First 90 Days. He has a good way of assessing your problem preferences, the kinds of problems toward which you naturally gravitate.  Your preferences have influenced you to move towards jobs where you can do more of what you like. And as result, those skills have been perfected and you feel most competent in those areas.  He uses the analogy that it is like exercising the right arm and ignoring the left. The strong arm gets stronger and the other atrophies. The risk is that an imbalance occurs and then you move into a role where you need to use both arms together.

Look at the table below, which I have modified from Watkins’ book to suit a teacher’s world, and use it to assess your intrinsic interest in solving problems in each of the areas on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means very little interest and 10 means a great deal of interest.

Design of appraisal and reward systems Employee morale Equity/fairness



Management of financial risk Setting budgets Cost-consciousness



Positioning and promoting your department/area Relationships with colleagues Focussing on high quality service delivery



Ensuring high quality of learning outcomes Relationships with students Looking for continuous improvements


Managing projects Relationships with parents and other stakeholders Working together with other departments and school administration




Now transfer your rankings from the table above to the table below into the corresponding cells. Then add the three columns and five rows.

The column totals represent your preferences among technical, political and cultural problems. Technical problems include strategies, marketing and processes. Political problems are about power, influence and alliances in the organization. Cultural problems are about the culture and climate in your organization which is influenced by values, norms, guiding assumptions and ‘the way things are done’ in your workplace.

If one column total is noticeably lower than the others, it represents a potential ‘blind spot’ for you. This means that you will steer clear of this area or worse, won’t see the need to take action. If you score high on technical aspects and low on culture and politics, you might not be seeing the people issues that need to be addressed.

The row totals represent your preferences for the various business functions. A low score in any row suggests that you prefer not to deal with problems in that functional area – more potential ‘blind spots’.


Technical Political Cultural Total
Human Resources








Research and Development





This exercise will help you to identify where you most like solving problems and where you are less eager to sit with problems. It will highlight potential weak spots in the way you work and therefore areas where you may not be seeing the issues clearly or acting quick enough.  To overcome or compensate for these vulnerabilities you can do some basic things:

  1. Be stronger with your own self-discipline and push yourself outside your comfort zone to tackle some of the areas that you find less enjoyable,
  2. Work on some of your less favourite activities with others in a team approach,
  3. Get some help from others who have more experience in the areas that are less familiar. Look around your organization for people who you can see are strong in the areas where you would like to develop and set up a mentor arrangement. You can also reach out to people in your network that may be in similar roles to you in other schools and seek their support. I am sure there will be times where you can share your strengths with them in return.
  4. Get yourself a coach and meet with them once a month so they gently push you out of your comfort zone and get you tackling those ‘blind spots’ with greater confidence.


So that leads me to tell you about The Leadership Exchange. This is a meeting group for educators in Melbourne, a network by any other name. We like to call it an ‘exchange’ because during the meeting two or three speakers share their knowledge about various topics pertinent to education and leadership and we also hear some good advice from a leadership coach; that would be me. The Exchange occurs once per term with the meeting starting at 6.00pm, ending at 8.30pm, with a break to eat and drink and connect with other educators. Too many educators in schools are not connecting enough. The internet is only one way to connect, but to know people because you have made a connection in person is worth so much more. I encourage you to attend and I also suggest that you pay the registration fee yourself. Don’t ask your school to pay it. This event is designed around building your own professional reputation. This is where you need to invest in yourself. The next Leadership Exchange is on Wednesday 8 March. Here is the link to book and get more information. I hope to see you there.

Please let me know how this problem preference exercise was for you. Remember, I am happy to assist you as your coach, meeting once a month, and helping to move you out of your comfort zone. Being a past school leader I know the world of a teacher very well.

About the author: Janine Stratford is an Executive Coach working with school leaders. She provides leadership coaching developing greater clarity, consistency and confidence in leadership, direction and workplace relationships. Janine’s company is Coaching Focus.