Inspiring, but could he read a map?

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Management is a dirty word for some, but charisma is useless if you don't have an eye for the day to day detail. Gerald Haigh reports.

A former headteacher who now runs leadership and management courses has a favourite expression: "You can be a manager without being a leader, but you can't be a leader without being a manager."

In other words, vision, charisma and heroism are all very well, but if you can't see the management implications, then you risk creating the kind of chaos that can destroy your vision.

When a pioneering school opened in Leicestershire in 1975 with a core curriculum, independent time for older pupils and decisions made by a democratic council of staff and senior pupils, The TES wrote: "Children wandered around the school, no one knew where they belonged or where to send them, teachers were too wary of resorting to old authoritarian methods. Gradually, damage and graffiti increased until the look of the school seemed to justify the most hostile headlines."

Countesthorpe survived because key people had enough faith in it to hold on for better times. Other schools, though, closed, or were brought to heel by worried local authorities.

It's not always so dramatic. More common is the respected leader whose inability to anticipate the consequences of inspired decisions causes milder levels of confusion. One head will call a meeting at short notice to announce sweeping changes, then forget to turn up, having been distracted by an intriguing conversation with a group of children. Another will see parents allow their daughter to change her course, and forget to tell her teachers. The good leader survives this as long as colleagues are signed up to the greater vision and are happy to do the repair work. In many cases, the head's eccentric inefficiency becomes a focus for good-natured and affectionate humour.

Relying on the vigilance of others to make up for your shortcomings is risky; it's manifestly better for a leader to be a good manager. It's difficult, for example, to ignore the fact that whereas Captain Scott led his men to disaster, Amundsen managed his team to the South Pole and back. And when Shackleton, leader par excellence, ended up on the ice with his men, hundreds of miles from land, he didn't just rally them with inspirational words. More importantly, he knew what to do - what the tasks were and who was to do them, with what equipment - because the emergency was just one of the many possibilities he'd foreseen.

It may be that the current attention paid to leadership distracts from the importance of management. It wasn't always like that. Not so long ago, the view was that good management was the best you could hope or aim for. Leadership, if mentioned at all, was a bonus that came along if you were lucky.

Peter Drucker, in what was one of the first influential management books, Practice of Management (Butterworth-Heinemann, pound;10.99), first published in 1954 and reprinted more than 20 times since, devotes just a page to leadership - not because he doesn't think it matters, but because in his view you're either a leader or not. "Leadership is of utmost importance," he writes. "Indeed there is no substitute for it. But leadership cannot be created or promoted. It cannot be taught or learned."

Drucker is keen on the notion of "spirit" in an organisation (which I take to be roughly what we'd now call "shared vision"). But, he suggests, you can't assume that you need leaders to create spirit. Rather than waste time looking for the leader who will rescue you, get on and manage, using tried and tested methods. "In fact," he writes, "to concentrate on leadership may only too easily lead management to do nothing at all about the spirit of its organisation."

There's a lesson here. Many successful and improving schools are headed by "leaders" - inspirational, visionary people capable of urging others on to higher things. But there are also successful and improving schools which are led by effective managers who do wonders simply by concentrating on the basics of teaching and learning, behaviour and attendance - finding out what works and using proven techniques to spread good practice. Is that good management? Or maybe it counts as leadership? When you find out, let me know.

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