The qualities that shape leadership

7th June 1996 at 01:00
Every account of school management, not least the pronouncements of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead, emphasises the importance of the leadership of the head and the contribution it can make to the development and improvement of a school. I should like to emphasise that leadership of schools has to be seen as a team contribution and heads cannot do it on their own.

John Bazalgette rightly pointed out the limited "cut-and-paste" framework that the Teachers' Training Agency provides in the recent consultation document about a national professional qualification for headteachers (TES, Platform, 31 May). Leadership of schools is about the personal qualities one brings and applies to headship.

With all the other challenges of recent times it has sometimes been difficult to keep the reality of life in classrooms the main priority. The central responsibility of leaders in schools is to ensure the quality of teaching and learning. Many of the other challenges need managing but it is only with leadership that this core purpose of the school can be kept in focus.

Leadership is different from management, which relates to processes and systems. Increasingly attention is being paid to leadership as a priority. Just look at the titles of recently published management books. Leadership is built on personal qualities. Some of them can be developed but essentially leaders are born rather than made. Maybe I would accept shaped. Experience can teach a great deal not least through learning from example - being coached by an effective leader. In challenging times we need strong leadership. What is it?

I am not sure that the TTA has properly taken account of the dimension of leadership. Much of its focus was on specific practical experience and the competencies of management. At least you need an opportunity to reflect on leadership before you do it. And how many schools are operating so that all teachers get a share of being leaders? And what about the development of these qualities in students, some of whom will be leaders of the future?

From many sources and my own experience, I have developed a definition of leadership summarised by four key qualities: anticipation, communication, trust and drive.

Few of us will have all the elements of these qualities, but reflection about how someone fits into this description may help to determine the qualities that need to be brought out and developed.

Anticipation is the capacity to think ahead and see the wider picture, to predict events, be flexible and perceptive. Leaders tell good stories, as Howard Gardner's recent research demonstrates, and to do this good communication skills are needed. These include the capacity to empathise with the receiver or audience so that timing and pace are effective. And they need to be open and to listen. Their own conduct must be consistent with their stories. Consultation is important, as is the capacity to facilitate and negotiate. Leaders must be recognised as people who can act as spokesperson, to present the organisation or the team to those outside, and the outside to those inside.

Trust is a crucial quality. Leaders must be credible and dependable. They give and receive loyalty and respect. Their judgment is sound and they carry their responsibility of stewardship with care. They are also ready to trust themselves and let go through real delegation and empowering others. They hold themselves and others accountable but do not seek to blame. Mistakes will be opportunities for learning, not failures.

Without self-confidence and physical and emotional stamina our leaders in schools will find the challenges I have discussed very difficult to sustain. Drive, determination, sheer energy and enthusiasm are needed. Leaders need to have passion for their task, the tenacity and courage to see it through and the capacity to be decisive when necessary. They will be self-aware and restless in their search for progress and improvement.

Sustained good humour will keep the balance. There is a danger that everything will get out of proportion and be taken too seriously.

To reinforce my final point - if you do not enjoy it, should you be doing it? One year into my second headship, in spite of all the challenges - or perhaps because of many of them - I am enjoying it, but I am sure I would not have satisfied the TTA's complete framework of competencies on interview.

Mary Marsh is head of Holland Park School. This article is an extract from her recent lecture at the Institute of Education, University of London.

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