How to do it

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Stephen Covey's famous principles are being reworked into the seven habits of highly effective headship. Diane Hofkins reports

How would you like to be remembered? As a manager who got ahead at other people's expense? Or as a leader who listened and brought the staff along on an ongoing voyage? As a brilliant head whose school was their life? Or as someone who also nurtured family, friends and their own well-being?

These were the sort of questions pondered by a group of Midlands primary heads and other staff who attended a two-day course on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People( last term, organised by their networked learning community, Gung-Ho. These seven habits have been categorised and investigated by American business guru Stephen Covey, who has built a multi-million dollar industry in self-help books and management courses.

One of the activities undertaken by the workshop in Dudley was to think of yourself in various relationship roles - mother, son, headteacher, bass guitarist, centre forward - and imagine how you would like to be hailed at your 80th birthday party. Then think about how to earn those accolades.

This relates to the second habit, begin with the end in mind, and also to the third, put first things first.

Planning is a big theme in the Covey training. The habits are intended as a blueprint for how to live your life; effectiveness across the board comes from building your character. This is not something that can be achieved all at once, but, like yoga, needs to be practised so that it infuses your thinking, and skill grows gradually.

The materials are peppered with salient quotes, many from the author himself. One of his most fundamental is: "We see the world not as it is, but as we are." An important step in developing productive relationships at home and at work is to understand everyone's mental map of the world is different. You may also be using an old map to explore new territory.

The first three habits (see chart) are the personal skills, upon which the next three, the interpersonal skills, are built. These focus on finding mutual benefit, rather than on one person triumphing over another, and urge "an abundance mentality" (there's plenty to go around). "Win-win is a belief in the third alternative," says Covey. "It's not your way or my way.

It's a better way." The seventh habit has to do with renewal, keeping yourself on an improvement course physically, spiritually, mentally and socially.

The Dudley course, conducted by a Californian trainer brought across by Jan Campbell, the National College for School Leadership co-leader of Gung Ho, was not designed specifically for educationists, but the heads found much they could relate to. Tracy Ruddle, head of Bromley Hills primary in Kingswinford, West Midlands, was particularly interested in the centrality placed on relationships, and the habit of empathetic listening (try first to understand, then to be understood). This method of attempting to take in another person's point of view without bringing in your own baggage was helpful in dealing with youngsters, as well as staff. Since the course, she says she has been trying very hard to listen. The whole approach, says Tracy, is "invaluable for someone who manages people who manage people".

The work needn't end with the course, either. The Midlands heads have already held follow-up meetings to discuss their progress. Sheffield primary head Huw Thomas has not taken the course, but has found the book's ideas inspiring. He has drawn up a chart (see above) showing how each habit relates to a head's job: "All the habits have a clear application in education."

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, pound;10.99, Simon and Schuster.


Be proactive

* promoting a distinctive ethos in a school

* using the results of our evaluations

* mission statements Begin with the end in mind

* school aims

* leading a team and promoting leadership withina team

* clarifying the school's strategic direction

* managing the budget to target development Put first things first

* staff development

* time management

* knowing how to prioritise

* clearing that list of 'to do' jobs Think winwin

* performance management issues or difficulties that arise within the staff team

* reaching agreements when opinions differ Seek first to understand, then to be understood

* handling parents' complaints

* empathetic communication

* managing confrontation Synergise

* working in partnership with the LEA and other agencies

* creatively harnessing relationships Sharpen the saw

* work-life balance

* looking after ourselves

* stress management

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