Battle for hearts and minds

11th July 2003 at 01:00
The simple messages put out by George W Bush over the war with Iraq are an object lesson in how to take your people with you

Scorned for his malapropisms he may be, but President George W Bush has a great deal to teach heads about leadership, says an expert. Within 18 months, the US president went from crisis management of September 11 to full-scale war with his country's long-standing adversary: Saddam Hussein.

How? By winning the hearts and minds of the American public - persuading them that war with Iraq was a necessary course of action.

The US president on television is brilliant, says Dr Laurie Thew, principal of Manurewa central school, Auckland, New Zealand. "The message is clear, simple, consistent and sincere." He offers a classic case of "strategic contextual transformation": identifying a significant event (September 11), basing it in the context of the world in which Americans live, and interpreting the event for them so that they will adopt his view of the world.

According to President Bush, the US - a powerful nation and champion of freedom and individual rights - needed to make a stand against terrorism around the world by setting itself up as a protector of innocent people against "evil". Having united his own country behind him, Bush then attempted to lead the world by calling for backing to protect global peace and defend democracy. But he failed to win United Nations support for a war.

At this point, says Dr Thew, President Bush turned from acting as leader to manager: he abandoned persuasive techniques and used his vast military might to fulfil his aim.

This scenario, on a less dramatic scale, is largely the role of principals, says Dr Thew. He will run a workshop on the same topic at the International Confederation of Principals convention in Edinburgh which starts on Sunday.

Dr Thew devoted his doctoral research in the late 1990s to school leadership and devised a definition that he believes holds true for politicians and business leaders just as much as for headteachers.

A leader must make decisions within a context of expectations from others and within certain resources. This is essentially school management. But a leader will also try to instil his personal vision. Where many such visionaries falter is in failing - like George Bush at the United Nations - to attract support from enough people for action.

"The world message from Bush is being deemed suspect now and in the Middle East the turmoil continues."

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq might not earn him top marks for evidence-based leadership.

Effective leaders will redefine the rules of "appropriateness" - what is desirable or necessary in the aims of the school, and may even change the expectations of those he or she serves. In New Zealand, says Dr Thew, many primaries have introduced uniforms to boost school unity. While the state does not require a uniform code, at least half of the schools in his part of Auckland have convinced parents of its value.

"It's like the Middle East situation: some parents don't want a uniform but the leader has convinced them that it's better to have one for everyone overall," says Dr Thew.

As a principal working in one of the world's most devolved school governance systems, Dr Thew has found himself loaded with management issues rather than opportunities to practise leadership.

Since 1989, New Zealand principals and their boards of voluntary trustees (governors) have had control of day-to-day spending, employment and property. But this has led to schools in affluent areas becoming richer and the poor schools poorer.

And with the country's schools heading down the path towards privatisation, teachers were becoming "de-professionalised".

"Boards of trustees had too much power over employment and conditions," says Dr Thew. "Teachers' views became diminished - they were simply there to deliver the objectives set by the community."

While the government has since imposed more regulations on boards, Dr Thew says fewer teachers want to become principals. "The responsibility is enormous, the potential for conflict is enormous and balancing the state requirements with community expectations can be very challenging."

Clarifying Leadership: The Role of the primary School Leader as an educational leader by Laurie Thew:

Once more unto the breach? School leaders may think they are too busy struggling with test pressures, shrinking war chests and the clamour to raise standards to read Shakespeare. But according to one London-based development consultancy, Henry V could be one of the sharpest weapons in their armoury.

"The play is probably the best literary study of a great inspirational leader," says former actor and theatre director Nicholas Janni on the sidelines of a seminar for senior managers from Swiss Re, the Swiss reinsurance company in Zurich.

The war against France in Henry V, he says, is a metaphor for the mission of any leader facing seemingly insurmountable difficulties and a lesson in how to achieve peak performance in adversity.

The play has been used to inspire troops in the Second World War and most recently in the war against Saddam Hussein. Now Mr Janni's company, Mythodrama Associates, is using it to inspire Britain's headteachers as well as leaders in the Department for Education and Skills and the Centre for British Teachers. Next week he will address 1,200 principals from schools across the world at the International Confederation of Principals convention in Edinburgh.

Co-founder with Mr Janni of Mythodrama, a London-based personal development consultancy, is Richard Olivier, son of the late actor Sir Laurence Olivier, who acted and directed the 1944 film Henry V. For the past two years, the pair have been running leadership courses for educationists running from 90 minutes to three days, including instruction, role play, coaching and presentation skills.

Participants need not read the text of Henry V in advance or understand the Elizabethan language and poetry. The seminar is divided into five parts, corresponding to the acts of the play: Act I: Fire up the staff with your vision Let thy vision raise poor flattened souls Henry's dying father tells him to find a mission to unite the kingdom after civil war. The young king decides to go to war with France. The prologue opens with a call to the imagination to fire up "flat unraised spirits" and to be braced for the task ahead:

"O! For a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention."

Advice: No matter how well they fulfil targets, school principals need to fire the imagination with a vision to inspire staff to carry out their task.

"In education, where the circumstances are so hard with cutbacks and class sizes, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture," says Mr Janni.

"You need to remember what originally inspired you to become a teacher. Are you still in touch with that?"

Act II: beware the traitor within Keep watchful eyes on treachery from within Just before Henry and his troops set sail for France, he discovers "three corrupted men" who betrayed him to France.

The seminar defines four "traitors" and gives advice on dealing with them.

School principals are also advised to be aware of the "internal traitor" within themselves that can also sabotage their mission.

Type 1. Open critics who want change. Advice: listen to them and if you continue to disagree, draw a line under this. Even if you both disagree at the end, they will follow you as long as you listen to them.

Type 2. Open critics who do not want change and do not propose an alternative. Advice: draw a line under the criticism.

"These are the whiners who are constantly complaining and they drain the team's energy. You have to shut them up often by confronting them directly and telling them to stop," says Mr Janni.

Type 3. Critics who complain behind your back. Advice: Don't betray your source and say how you found out. Confront them, discuss their criticism and tell them to stop.

Type 4. Critics who want change but undermine you behind your back. Advice: It is not possible to work with traitors. You must get rid of them or leave.

In the play, Henry's best friend betrays him, but despite the bond of friendship, he orders the man's execution while less serious critics are pardoned.

Act III: Exude confidence and a positive attitude Thy self-belief shall ward off dull despair Henry and his troops are in France three months into the campaign, but still haven't taken the first town; 2,000 of his 10,000 men are dead and a further 2,000 are sick.

Advice: Do as Henry V does. He encourages his men, he never mentions the fact that they are 90 days behind schedule and have lost one-fifth of the army. He is positive from the start and shows confidence that his troops can win the battle in the end.

"There are several techniques which school principals can employ to help demotivated staff re-commit and re-enthuse," says Mr Janni. "The main one is to use the imagination, to give them an image of how things could be when they succeed."

Act IV: When backs are to the wall, engage your staff Steer each soldier with thy steadfast hand On the eve of the decisive Battle of Agincourt, the English camp is surrounded by many more French troops and they are convinced they are all going to die.

"When your back is against the wall, your mission in crisis - this is the way to survive the dark night without losing your faith and without quitting," Mr Janni says.

Advice: Again, do as Henry does. First, he goes round the camp visiting each soldier individually, shaking hands and encouraging them. The chorus remarks that "upon his royal face there is no note of how dread an army hath enrounded him". Privately, Henry acknowledges to a senior aide: "'Tis true we are in great danger" and calls a meeting of his senior team.

Before that, Mr Janni points out, he has "the wisdom and strength to spend some time alone to reflect".

Henry disguises himself as a soldier and listens to what the troops really think. They say they are going to die and blame it on the king.

Feeling he is being unfairly blamed for everything, he unloads the burdens of leadership - "Getting these emotions out is very important in making a rational decision," says Mr Janni.

Henry joins his senior team, acknowledges the uphill task they face in having to inspire deeply demotivated troops, and finally appears before the troops to deliver his rousing Saint Crispin's Day speech, conjuring up a glorious image of the future.

Against the odds, his staff and troops are motivated and win the battle the next day.

Act V: Maintain status quo before further battles May the intervals of war be struck with peace Olivier Mythodrama calls this "tending the garden". Once you have won some territory, this shows you how to maintain the status quo and pause before further conquests.

Olivier Mythodrama Associates: Yvette Forbes: +44 20 7386 7972; email:;'Inspirational Leadership: Henry V and the Muse of Fire' by Richard Olivier (Spiro Press, pound;10.99)

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