It's my divine dandruff that gives me gravitas

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Graham Jones explains why staff believe in him

I don't know whether I was a born leader, was trained to be one in an endless series of staff development sessions with coffee and biscuits in run-down teachers' centres, or had it thrust upon me when all the other interview candidates took a step backwards and I found myself shaking the chairman of governors' hand, still wearing the smile that had been fixed on my face for the four days of scorching hell known as an assessment centre.

Whatever the cause, I - a natural rebel, I believed - had become a leader of men and, when it suited them, women. I was aware of an immediate shift in perspective, both in me and in those whose good fortune it was to have me as leader. I was suddenly seen as barely human, less prone to the weaknesses of mere mortals, and a paragon of commitment. If I got a cold and lost my voice, I was still expected to do a full day's work and still uncomplainingly make a hoarse speech at the evening award ceremony. It was assumed that I felt the effects of the rhinovirus less keenly than those in lower management positions. In addition, every word I spoke was invested with deep meaning and passed around colleagues searching for answers to the riddle of their new leader.

"Know what the boss said to me this morning?"

"No, what?"

"He said 'good morning'."

"Wonder what he meant by that?"

Gradually, it dawned on me that my ebbing humanity was being replaced by a talismanic quality. I wasn't quite expected to be infallible. Little errors are tolerated, but how can you entrust the future direction of a whole organisation and all who sail in her to someone who doesn't absolutely know what he's doing and is prone to the normal fluctuations of human judgement.

Authority had settled on my shoulders like divine dandruff, and I had better live up to the expectations of those toiling in the foothills below.

I had to have my head in the clouds, to a degree, or I wouldn't look the part. But I needed to keep my feet on the ground.

My shift in perspective was visceral. Heroic postures, grand gestures, brilliant communication strategies and great vision may all be part of the armoury. But none of it will work if I can't connect full square with the everyday concerns of the staff. Oh, and I need to believe in them every bit as much as I hope they believe in me. And cross my fingers.

The writer is principal of Sutton Coldfield college

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