Beware the almond in Pandora's box

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Graham Jones now knows why everything is your fault

I've been on a training course for principals, and I now know what's been going wrong. If you haven't been paying too much attention in the past year or so, you will have missed the fact that things went a bit off colour in one or two colleges. As a result, three things happened: the Further Education Funding Council was shut; the Learning and Skills Council opened; and principals were obliged to undergo training because it was all their fault. Even though hardly any of it was down to me, I went on the training - and blow me, I found the culprit.

It's the amygdala - that's Greek for "almond", as I'm sure you know - and it is the most primitive part of the brain. Apparently, assuming I grasped the essence of my five days' excellent training correctly, if you let the amygdala out of its box too often, your days as a leader are numbered and your college will be off down the Swanee with you.

Which is a bit tricky really, because without an over-developed version of this primitive brain lobe, you don't stand much of a chance of becoming a principal in the first place. So the very thing you need to get the job is the one thing that will stop you doing it properly. It's one of God's little jokes, along with the prostate gland.

We had an amygdala long before we had any other bit of our brains. It has no time for subtlety. If you see something threatening, like a consultation on a common inspection framework, the amygdala puts your fight and fright mechanism into overdrive before the rational part of your brain can say "David Sherlock". If you see something you like, the amygdala can have you up before the magistrate well before you remember you're a family man with a huge mortgage. It hijacks you emotionally, and produces primitive explosive reactions you regret almost before the outburst is over.

Aeons of cognitive development and the svelte, streamlined executive superjet of your intellect can still be hijacked by a terrorist from your caveman past.

And that, fellow principals, according to our training, is why your colleges have been getting into bother. Because if your leadership style resembles that of a Neanderthal with a hangover, the climate in your college is unlikely to be productive and collaborative, we learned. Clubbing staff over the head with a rolled copy of the funding guidance maybe fun - as well as the best use of that document - but it is unlikely to lead to a happy college ready to take on the latest government wheeze.

It was someone's cunning but desperate amygdala that invented franchising - and a panicky bureaucrat's one that released the establishment's knee-jerk response into our collective abdomen. Somebody's almond-in-happy-mode produced the demand-led element in a fit of spontaneous generosity towards FE. And someone in a spasm of horror abolished it.

The amygdala has ruled FE inside and outside colleges, it seems, ever since the first principal climbed out of the primordial soup, or college catering facility, as we call it here.

Emotional intelligence is the answer to the wicked almond, our course leaders told us. It is certainly the answer for me because you can have bags of emotional intelligence without too much of the standard sort. Ants, would you credit, have emotional intelligence coming out of their antennae.

Anne Robinson, bright as she doubtless is, displays the emotional intelligence of a T-Rex with toothache. Forrest Gump was an EI giant and, according to research, had all the makings of a fine college principal, including the ability to run long and fast.

The FEFC was pure amygdala, the LSC will be all languid EI. People with emotional intelligence have stunning self-control and would never abuse their power; they have empathy - they know what you want even before you do. And they give it to you because it is in your best interests - so heavy planning mechanisms will not be needed.

Organisational nous and fabulous self-management are characteristics of EI, and the LSC will undoubtedly display them majestically. Peerless social skills, which influence without manipulating, are the end product of the really emotionally intelligent.

The LSC, possessed of all these, will simplify the funding methodology just to ease our burden.

It will, out of sympathy for our plight, take the hassle out of European funding. It will allocate huge budgets to all and sundry with perfectly even hands, rationalise without pain, and use its social skills to close sixth forms with no fuss. Of course, if you are emotionally intelligent and have already met your local LSC executive director, you will have sussed out the truth of this already.

Graham Jones is principal of Sutton Coldfield College

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