Keep watering the grass roots

9th March 2007 at 00:00
The website management-issues.com, based in the United States, has a piece about the danger of managers becoming out of touch with employees. "Half of the 2,000 employees surveyed by HR consultancy Rightcoutts said they have never had a conversation with their managing director while almost a quarter did not know the name of their chief executive."

Schools aren't that bad yet, but many teachers feel their senior management team (SMT) is out of touch. The TES online forums have more than 14,000 messages mentioning SMT, very few of them neutral, let alone complimentary:

"I twaddle we're forced to endure from smt", "power-tripping smt" and so on.

Is this typical of life in schools? Maybe not, but the sheer volume of posts must tell us something. And this at a time when "distributed leadership" is meant to be a key principle. So what's happening?

My guess is that the growth of the idea of the leadership team has had the effect of increasing rather than removing a sense of separation between senior teachers and the rest. Convene half a dozen people and call them "leaders" or "senior management" and the risk is that they will spend more time looking inwards, attending to each other, and less time looking out for the people they're supposed to be leading.

Regular SMT meetings, always attended by the same key people, may keep leaders away from the realities and encourage an atmosphere of secrecy, rumour and resentment. So what's to be done? Well, I've noticed two things about schools where leadership figures are liked and respected. First, the number of SMT meetings has been cut to the bone, replaced by focused working parties made up of volunteers from all levels. Second, these leaders are out and about. The head is constantly in the corridors, marching across the field, in the dinner queue, and causing problems for the secretary trying to field phone calls.

As the management-issues.com piece has it: "Some of the most admired and successful leaders display a gritty determination not to lose touch with their staff, regardless of how large the organisation is."

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