The leadership and management divide

17th October 2003 at 01:00
When I first became a newspaper editor, my deputy suggested that I should go on a management course. I assented politely. I knew perfectly well that I would do no such thing and so did he. I have never heard of an editor going on a management course.

Newspapers have managing directors (sometimes called "publishers") who oversee marketing, sales, advertising and so on; but since journalists are supposed to be insulated from vulgar commercial considerations, editorial departments usually have people called "managing editors". Journalists by trade (they may still do some editing), they sign expenses, sack people and receive demands for pay rises. But they don't usually go on courses either.

There is no National College for Newspaper Leadership.

Should there be a National College for School Leadership? As the TES reported last week, Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, wants the place closed. Much of what it puts out, he said, is drivel. I would like to disagree wholly, but cannot. Some years ago, before she took her present job, I met the college's chief executive, Heather Du Quesnay. She struck me as perfectly normal and sensible. Yet on "leadership development", she allows her website to state: "The five stages of school leadership form part of a non-linear modelIstrategic and cross-stage programmes supplement and enhance the programmes."

I prefer Woodhead's homely wisdom. "The day your staff stop bringing you their problems is the day you have lost leadership," he told a conference - a simple and illuminating observation worth a thousand cross-stage programmes. I shall try to remember it myself the next time a staff member bursts tearfully into my office five minutes before deadline.

But I suspect a category error into which both Woodhead and the inventors of the national college have fallen. Leadership and management are different things. Newspaper editors lead; they have other people to do management. Some organisations - such as call centres - have management but no leadership. Schools traditionally had leadership but no management.

Heads inspired and cajoled, set standards and issued proclamations, frightened the children and reassured the parents. But they had no real management functions beyond chairing meetings and designing lesson timetables, and even these jobs were often delegated to others. Management was done by the local authority. Heads had no need of strategies, policies, models and action plans.

All that changed from the late 1980s. Budgets were delegated; central government demanded targets; schools competed for parental custom. Heads used to manage only the adult staff; children just received orders and endured punishments. Now, children (and parents) have rights. They have to be managed, too.

Schools have never quite adjusted. Unlike in newspapers, nobody is designated specifically to a management role. There is no systematic development of management skills. Heads do not know whether they are supposed to be leaders in the old-fashioned sense, behaving like a cross between a parish priest and the conductor of an orchestra; or chief executives, familiar with spreadsheets and cash flow.

I doubt that leadership can be taught, except through experience.

Management can be taught. When the education system as a whole recognises the distinction, the national college will do a better job.

Peter Wilby is editor of the New Statesman

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