No hope of a comfort zone

15th July 2005 at 01:00
Our old principal has stood down, which is a shame. He was one of those principals who didn't stalk the corridors of power, but who was often seen along the corridors of the college, talking to the staff and students.

Consequently he was respected, and even liked.

So we waited nervously in the lower car park, watching the heat stack of the central heating system for the puff of white smoke that would announce that a decision had been reached on who would replace him.

The new principal may turn out to be just as good, of course, but the very word "new" has the potential for trouble. However well the college was managed previously - and it was - any new principal would want to prove they were dynamic and forward-thinking, so it's hardly likely to be business as usual.

The new incumbent duly arrived and hardly had time to install a new coffee percolator and rearrange the desk, when all the senior staff disappeared from the premises. It seemed rather early in the regime for such a drastic turn of events, but our worst fears were soon confirmed: they had all gone up country to spend several days in a hotel, where they could engage in blue-sky thinking and scoff Danish pastries.

Soon after their return, a dramatic announcement was made. In the sugar rush which invariably follows a hotel breakfast, they had come up with a new mission statement.

I cannot tell you whether it was better or worse than our old mission statement, because I cannot remember the old one, although we undoubtedly had one - or we would not have got a good inspection report last time round.

They had also come up with a vision statement. I was a bit uncertain about the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement, but someone explained to me that it is akin to the difference between aims and objectives, which we write on our lesson plan. So then it all became much clearer. But there was more: a set of strategic objectives to guide our planning for the next few years, all positively buzzing with words like "aspirations" and "delivery" and "responsiveness".

I am delighted with this turn of events, because it should keep the second-tier managers busy for ages. The next stage is the town-hall meetings. We all hoped for an afternoon off when we could troop down the Victorian gothic pile in the town centre, but the meetings are being held across the sites so that the new principal can explain our strategic objectives.

So far, it has been straight-down-the-line textbook stuff. I've done management training in the past, so I already know how to spot the elephant in the living-room. I know that you have to do a strengths and weaknesses analysis. I've even set myself some targets. Number one: get through to Friday. Number two: try not to spend all of Sunday thinking about Monday.

I've read some of those leadership manuals, and I know that there is often a chapter somewhere about shifting from our comfort zones. Let's hope the new principal has been in the classroom recently, and can still remember that for the lecturers on the front line, there never was any question of a comfort zone. Nor, for that matter, Danish pastries for those of us who really need them.

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