Review - Mind Your Head by David Boddy, John Catt Educational, #163;15.99 - Why fear is a four-letter word
David Boddy is no ordinary schoolteacher. For several years, he worked as press adviser to Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. He also became head of St James Senior Boys' School in Surrey and is currently the chairman of the Society of Heads, despite never having been a teacher. All this makes him an interesting person to write about what is needed to lead our most important institutions: schools.
To Boddy, emotional intelligence lies at the heart not only of leadership, but also of meaningful living. "The person who can evolve his or her emotional intelligence will benefit significantly," he writes. "A greater belief in oneself emerges, which does not manifest in an egotistical way, but in a quiet confidence and humility."
Boddy advocates seven principles for any aspiring head. The list may surprise readers, especially those brought up in the macho and still prevalent "them and us" mentality. Heads, Boddy argues, must cultivate their powers of awareness. The more one's consciousness of the present grows, the more one learns to be "detached" in the best sense of the word: not cold nor unsympathetic, but with one's own emotions under control, so one can fairly assess what is happening and decide the best course of action.
He exhorts leaders to be "fearless", a state that he says can "shake our inner core" when we meet it on the job as opposed to on a training course. Our school system is run, indeed paralysed, by fear. Teachers are afraid to be themselves for fear of being ridiculed, and if they teach beyond the course they worry their pupils will lose vital marks in exams. Pupils are afraid of revealing themselves for fear of arousing the unwelcome attention of the class bullies or the disapproval of examiners who value regimentation, not flair. Senior leadership teams and principals are fearful of the annual exam results. Governors are afraid of anything that would upset the public perception of the school.
To move beyond fear, we need to ground ourselves in our own deepest principles and values. Headteachers, Boddy writes, must avoid rigidity and the fixed ideas of others. How much better to treat all with equanimity. "The fluid leader cultivates a warm heart, and empathy comes easily to him ... his social skills allow him to move in and out of situations without tension," he writes.
Finally, the book exhorts us to remain cheerful at all times. Easier said than done, but whoever said leadership was easy?
I sense we are arriving at a new phase in our schools, one where we value people less for the results they achieve - important though that is - than for their humanity. I cannot recommend Boddy's book too highly.
Anthony Seldon is master of Wellington College in Berkshire.