'Heroic' leaders fall out of favour

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Sector's leadership college will do away with charisma model. Joe Clancy reports

The first leadership college for the post-16 sector was launched this week with the aim of producing "no more heroes" who lead from the front.

Instead of the "single heroic figure" taking key decisions, the college will focus on team leadership as the style for the 21st century.

The Centre for Excellence in Leadership will stress organisational development, vision and empowering others rather than traditional management functions such as finance and resources.

Graham Peeke, the centre's interim director, said: "We have moved into a post-heroic leadership model. Instead of a charismatic leader who knows everything, does everything, and has his finger in every pie, we want leaders who give leadership away.

"In the past leadership has focused on the challenge of managing a large organisation, not on leading the learning. We believe the people who are nearest to the learners should have a leadership role as well."

He said the "superleader" had enjoyed limited success. "It has worked in some places, but has not delivered high standards of leadership," he added.

The leadership college for the learning and skills sector was proposed in November 2001 by the then education secretary Estelle Morris.

There are high hopes that it will solve the management crisis afflicting post-16 education.

Some 20 per cent of college principals are due to retire in the next four years, and about 20 per cent of colleges have received poor grades in inspections for the quality of their management and leadership in recent years.

Alan Johnson, minister for lifelong learning, said: "The sector needs to respond to the challenge of identifying, encouraging and developing its next generation of leaders.

"This is an urgent challenge as almost half the senior mangers in the sector are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years, and they are mostly white and male.

"I believe the centre will be a catalyst in tackling these problems, boosting leadership skills and creating clear development pathways for the people who will be our next generation of leaders," said Mr Johnson.

The centre will have no fixed base, and will operate more as a virtual college, using premises at Lancaster university management school, Ashridge, and other venues, with a focus on e-learning.

It will train managers from every level, from principal to course leader.

Training will be given to first-line, middle and senior managers in FE colleges, training organisations, work-based learning and adult and community learning, as well as college principals and chief executives.

Teaching methods will include a blend of different approaches such as mentoring, coaching, on-line conferencing and e-learning - all based on shared experiences and "learning by doing".

Advocates of new-style leadership including the Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick, the Rev. Andrew Mawson, executive director of Community Action Network, are supporting the venture.

At the launch, plasma screens showed clips from the television comedy The Office, to suggest that the David Brent style of leadership was to be avoided.

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