The qualities expected of a good leader are staggering

10th October 2003 at 01:00
You need more specifications than a top-of-the-range computer, and a memory to match

I don't want you to think I'm taking my new job as head of department lightly. I didn't spend the summer searching for power suits or experimenting with fun yet serious accessories. I haven't been wondering what to do with all my free periods, or how to spend all my lovely four points' worth of salary. ("That's about an extra pound;20 a month," said one of my colleagues, helpfully.) Nor have I spent far too many hours with my new head-of-department laptop playing Solitaire. No, I've been reading up, getting prepared. Emotionally and intellectually.

At first, preparation consisted mostly of trying to persuade my accountant brother to show me again how to do percentages, so I'd be able to do my exam analysis without having a nervous breakdown. Actually, I don't remember being taught percentages. Maybe I'd managed to get another sick note to excuse me from maths that day. When I confided my fears about my new-found position, my brother politely suggested I head down to my local bookshop and get a few books on management. I didn't realise books on management existed, but they are there, crammed in between the nature books and the self-help books. Interesting placing. Kind of like business is the law of the jungle, but you've got to be nice with it. Give someone a hug before knifing them in the back, that sort of thing. There's a lot written about being a good leader, as I found when I struggled home with three weighty American tomes. Strangely enough, the whole management thing consists of rather more than just bringing in biscuits for department meetings and turning a blind eye if someone wants to sneak off five minutes early on a Friday.

After six weeks of wading through 30-point plans for instant success, and models of successful motivation, I'm more daunted than ever. Quite frankly, the list of qualities expected of a good leader is staggering. You need more specifications than your average top-of-the-range computer, and you're expected to have a memory to match, not to mention the ability to be able to switch on to work wherever, whenever demanded. Scary. It's not enough just to fall into leadership and find that you're good at it, sneer these books. Damn. That was the strategy I was planning to follow. That kind of natural leader is rare, apparently. If you want to be good, baby, you've got to work at it. Leadership costs, and here is where you start paying.

Literally, I've found, as these books are strangely addictive, and I've started to become almost obsessive in my search for the perfect leadership formula, which involves rare late nights, and hugs and biscuits at every available opportunity.

It's all a bit contradictory. Be approachable, but stay distant. View each of your colleagues in terms of their potential, but be realistic about what they can do. Inspire, but keep your ideas firmly grounded in reality.

Remember your family, but make sure you're first and last at your desk every day. Think of "creative" solutions, but don't throw out the rule book. Dial this number for a free chart to measure your personal effectiveness. Er, no thanks. I'd rather postpone the inevitable sense of failure as long as I can. Can any person possibly have all the personal attributes needed to fulfil a leadership role effectively? "Know that you'll make mistakes," intones one guru. Thanks mate, but I didn't need to pay pound;29.99 for you to state the bleeding obvious.

Gemma Warren runs a special needs department in a London secondary school.


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