Job-swapping? I'll just get my keys

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Let's speak management. Or do you need a translator? Jill Parkin offers her services

Leaders R Us Academy sends out an annual questionnaire to all the people who take its courses. The idea is to help them in the reflective leadership which is integral to the academy's code of ethics. If you don't reflect, you're either a poor leader or a vampire, according to the academy's mission statement 'Every Stakeholder a Leader, Every Leader a Stakeholder'.

Ivor Nedache, the principal of Wider Community community college in Essex, has allowed us to read the answers he submitted. After pushing a copy of the questionnaire into our hands, he said he was off to do some final reflection by the college duck pond. He reportedly left the pond holding two pebbles and smiling. He has not been seen since.

Give an example in your working life of distributed leadership.

You remember those signs executives used to put on their desk next to their silver clicking balls? The ones that said 'The Buck Stops Here'? I had a dozen made by the modern apprentices in the print department and I had them nailed to the desks of every member of the management team. And I bought myself a new desk toy - a miniature Zen rock garden, for when I need to meditate on my performance accountability.

Describe the last time you were inspirational.

This has to be our college trust-building weekend to Hoy in the Orkneys.

The Old Man of Hoy seemed the perfect solution to the tension between the bursar and the head of greenkeeping.

"You have to trust him, Monica!" I shouted up the rock, just before Monica ended up dangling at about 300 feet. He wouldn't leave her hospital bedside for weeks, and the last we heard they'd set up home in a crofter's cottage by Scapa Flow - a real life change for both of them.

Could you strengthen your formal support networks?

I wouldn't mind a bit of slack, actually. The principals of six colleges in the area form a group called Buddy Me, the idea being that we mentor and coach each other by job-swapping for a week at a time and then feeding back The trouble is that, under the support code, only positive comment is allowed, which means that all you get is someone drinking out of your coffee mug and moving your Zen rocks for a week.

Are you remembering to grow future leaders?

Well, Martin's now managing one of the Orkney distilleries, of course.

There's a promising young woman who's just joined us as head of plumbing.

And we're all very impressed with Angus, who's fought his way to be head of gamekeeping and wildlife management, with minimal blood-letting. We think he's going to be particularly strong in the section of the framework called 'Mobilise to Impact' and 'Focus to Achieve.' There's certainly nothing wrong with his focus anyway: dead squirrels all over the campus. Needs a little training in 'Cultural Sensitivity' and 'Self-awareness'.

How do you release and harness people's energy?

Pay helps. Saying "Well done" helps. So does listening.

Failing that, I recommend meditating with a few smooth pebbles in the palms of their hands.

We'd like to know about your lifelong learning.

There's very little to tell. What with the support of the formal network and the embrace of the wider community, I don't have much time. Although I am hoping to get a Zen gardening book for Christmas.

Tell us about the college's cultural sensitivity and flexibility.

Flexibility is no problem - our core skills demands are few. If they can identify a core, they're in. Cultural sensitivity needs constant vigilance.

There's no problem in finding halal meat for Muslim students, but they have protested about Angus and the sudden-death squirrels. He says there's no way he's slitting all those throats, so there's a bit of an uneasy truce at the moment.

Are you always truthful with your management team during performance review?

No, not with Brenda, no. It wouldn't be safe, not when she gets her weight behind that spanner. And she has her own support network - Eric in care skills, who specialises in lifting.

How are you embracing the wider community of stakeholders?

We do a lot of outreach work, taking basic skills to young mothers and the long-term unemployed in various community halls. And of course keeping Angus busy is a contribution to the safety of the wider community, and certainly of the urban fox.

Do you have a vision for the future?

Yes, oh yes. I can see mornings in the conservatory, far away from the growing leaders, the frameworks and the latest Learning and Skills Council initiative. Lunch in the village pub. Evenings in my library - whoops - in my learning resource centre. It's a year or two off, but in these reflective moments I really feel I'm almost there - a Zen moment of what the framework calls personal growth. The duck pond is calling me.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today