Dear Ted

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Our new head is an egomaniac who boasts that she was called 'God' in her previous school. What's the best way to deal with her?

Ted says

Leaders whose first concern is their own image and status do not last long.

Headship is about inspiring others, not pirouetting on an imaginary stage, or preening before a mirror. As the character in a comedy sketch once said:

"I'm not narcissistic. Narcissus was infatuated with himself. With me it's the real thing".

You can either laugh or cry, and I prefer the former. You and your colleagues could get very upset about your pompous boss, because it is demeaning to be regarded as serfs rather than fellow professionals. If this happened you would all become sad figures, drowning your sorrows at the Dog and Partridge, your only pleasure being to stick pins into a wax figurine.

Try to see the comical side of pomposity and egomania. Such figures have been satirised since the beginning of theatre. More positively, work out what you can do to improve the situation. Laughter may relieve symptoms, but it doesn't cure ailments. The deputy head is in the best position to raise such delicate matters privately with your head. In technical terms, the deputy can talk about "distributed leadership" as a potentially more effective style of management, whereby staff are deliberately and positively engaged in decision-making.

It is also important to understand the pressures your new head will be under to deliver the goods. People who appear over-confident and arrogant on the outside are often jellified on the inside. You don't have to counter with "In my previous job I was called Florence Nightingale," but judicious support and good humoured tolerance may work better than naked conflict.

God may have created the world in six days, but running a school takes longer and needs a whole team.

You say

It's fine to be vain if you are effective

So what if your head is a bighead? As long as she is effective in the role and takes the school forward there may be nothing more to worry about than a residual sense of annoyance... or even jealousy?

A positive and ambitious figurehead who aligns her objectives to the school's may well be a good thing. Of course, if she turns out to be a bully, or horribly autocratic, that's another matter. In the meantime maybe it's best to accept that a bit of posturing doesn't really matter as long as the performance is commensurate. Would you prefer a mediocre, self-effacing nonentity?

Rod Pow, Ealing

Egomaniacs are people too

It could be that your head is using this "God" persona as a screen, while in reality she is nervous in her new job. Behind all that egomaniacal behaviour is a real person with feelings and social needs just like the rest of us mere mortals. Try treating her as a human being. Give her some praise when it is justified and ask her how she is.

Being a head is sometimes a lonely job. If the staff are friendly and respectful towards her, then you will be helping her climb down from that pedestal. If you don't treat her like a God she will probably realise there is no need to try and act like one.

Stella Baker, Leeds

Give the all-powerful one some work

A head who regards herself as "God" should be treated as such. Any teacher with a professional or personal problem should take full and time-consuming advantage of the head's omniscience, preferably during her tea breaks.

Teachers should organise professional development sessions all at the same time to enable "God" to maximise her omnipresent quality by covering for all classes. When the impossible needs doing, staff should appeal to the head's omnipotence. After a few months of this treatment, the over-worked God will probable seek a day of rest and take her transcendental skills elsewhere!

Anthony Ireland, Manchester

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