Leadership comes in many forms

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Before I retired last year as a headteacher in the Borders, I was asked to address my fellow heads on "leadership", which prompted me to look back over my career and reflect on the various aspects of leadership I have encountered.

After completing a degree in engineering, I spent a year with VSO, teaching physics. Despite having no training and no experience, I was invited to join the management team because I was "a graduate from Scotland". This is an example of leadership by "status".

I then did an MSc and a friend dared me to apply to a company which provided electronic services on oilrigs, because it was one of the highest paid jobs around. During training in Paris, a senior manager explained that the company owned us and that we would be told when to eat, when to sleep, and when we could make love (only he was not so polite). This is leadership by "ownership".

When I completed teacher training, I was very fortunate to be accepted on a British Council scheme to teach in Malaysia. The school was a prestigious government boarding school for gifted boys from local villages. The headteacher could decide which teachers should be transferred out of the school. I recall one occasion when a teacher was rather reluctant to volunteer for an extra duty, but the suggestion that he might like to work in a very distant village resulted in great enthusiasm for the project. This is leadership by "power" and, although headteachers in this country do not exercise it to such a degree, they can decide who teaches which class next year. That can be great power.

Later, I was seconded to manage the technical and vocational education initiative (TVEI) for Scottish Borders. It was very well funded and, if schools met certain criteria, they received extra staffing and extra funding. At first, some schools were reluctant to meet the criteria but, when asked if they wanted the extra funding, all became willing. This is leadership by "money", and it is very effective.

Nowadays, I am concerned when I hear of a headteacher telling teachers to do something because of what inspectors will say, rather than because it is the best thing for the pupils. This is leadership by "fear".

I have left what I believe is the most important element of leadership till last. If leaders do their job well, help other staff when they need help, deal with the most difficult problems, communicate effectively and acknowledge the work of others, people will listen when they want support. This is leadership by "respect", which has to be earned. Likewise, the teacher who works hard and does things well for his or her pupils will usually earn their respect.

One might argue that the ingredients I have identified overlap with each other, that things are not so simple and that the good leader has to employ a variety of approaches. However, if my conclusions are true and are obvious to you, I am very pleased: you are probably well respected as a good leader.

Norman Roxburgh was rector of Earlston High in Berwickshire for 18 years.

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