Heads, when in doubt, follow Ecclesiastes

13th November 1998 at 00:00
Many people labour under the delusion that directors of education have lots of power. But, as Stalin asked of the Pope, how many divisions can he put on the lawn? Not that I am eschewing earthly power and claiming infallibility. Although it is amazing what people think that I should know. Almost as amazing as what I do not know!

Yet, for all its hassles, it is still an enormous privilege to be "the director''. The best thing of all is that you get to see, up close, the hundred and one different strategies that headteachers use to run successful schools.

In no particular order, the best headteachers have characteristics that make up, what I have modestly entitled Bell's taxonomy of leadership. First, they understand the human condition. They recognise that for all that management theory tells you, in the end you have to know, as Ecclesiastes says, that there is a time for change and a time for stability, a time for pressure and a time for support.

Second, you have to know where you are going and focus on the do-able. I am constantly amazed at what I never get round to doing. Yet, the real secret of leadership is having a clear sense of purpose and focusing on what can be done in the time available.

Third, good leaders listen well. It is not always the teacher's best trait since talking is the name of the game. But unless you listen, you will never access the collective wisdom of those you work with regularly.

Fourth, the best leaders tolerate chaos and know when to impose order. The bureaucratic mind that demands that everything is neat and orderly is not always the mind of the leader. A good headteacher allows colleagues to generate their ideas and then knows when to conclude debate and move to action.

Fifth, the successful leader knows when to say "thanks''. It often amazes me that good teachers who praise pupils will often forget to do the same when they are in charge of a group of adults. Not that this means a cosy, touchy-feely style. Rather, it is a proper recognition of work well done. Try it and see the reaction!

Finally, the good leader gets a life. There has to be an appropriate balance between work and play. Not only is this essential for physical and mental health, it also invigorates the soul and makes you a much more interesting person.

A wise man once said that if you command wisely, you will be obeyed cheerfully. Wise he may have been, but I am not sure he had ever run a school. Life is just a bit more complex. But good headteachers bring infinite wisdom to the job and at the heart of that is the recognition that people matter.

Will they teach that in the new academy for headteachers?

David Bell is director of education for Newcastle City Council

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