The best way to manage - be seen

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Wouldn't it be great to possess Sir Alan Sugar's magical pointing finger? There you are debriefing Terry the hapless newly qualified teacher after observing his lesson.

"Terry! Call yourself a science teacher? You were three-quarters through what you laughingly called your lesson before you even mentioned Boyle's Bleedin' Law! And you never even noticed that Simone was using the whiteboard to update her Facebook profile. Terry! You're a prat! You're fired!"

But the truth is that life's just not like that - not in school, McDonald's, General Motors or anywhere else. Even business leaders effortlessly separate their enjoyment of The Apprentice from any belief in its message.

Sir Digby Jones, former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, spoke for many when he said: "Businessmen do not turn up in a Bentley and scream 'You're fired!' at people... Young people will be turned off because they think that they will be shouted at by a horrible, fat, old, rich bloke." (Actually, it's a Roller, isn't it? And Sir Alan's not that fat.) No. Today it's all about distributed leadership, delegation and teamwork.

And that's fine, just so long as the senior management team doesn't become a closed, inward-looking magic circle - like a mildly animated version of the Rollright Stones.

Me, I'm with Caroline Badyal, head of Dartmouth high school in Sandwell, who believes that the right place for the leadership is around the place, being highly visible. And blow the paperwork. Describing to me once how she and her colleagues had improved behaviour and attendance, she said: "The most powerful tool is the profile of the senior team around the school."

And that really is something that's borrowed from the world of business.

The management guru Tom Peters discovered it in action at the technology firm Hewlett Packard, and christened it MBWA - "management by wandering around".

The writer is a former head

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