Staff make a good college excellent

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

The management theories of Sir Bernard O'Connell (TESS last week) are common sense and I agree with them in the main.

If colleges want to be as successful as possible, they need the buy-in and backing of the staff. In both my posts as a principal - Elmwood and Dundee - I have made gaining the respect and buy-in of staff my priority. This is because I know that if you want to make a good college excellent, you can only do this through the staff. Staff need to feel valued and respected, to contribute to the development of strategies and ideas, to be clear about their responsibilities and empowered to take things forward.

I am not sure I would dress this up in the theoretical terms which Sir Bernard does. He calls it "transformational leadership": it's a nice label and it provides some gravitas, but I believe it is just common sense.

This approach is not just applicable in terms of obtaining a consistent quality standard across the college but for everything. In other words, you will not have an excellent college in terms of quality of provision and service, or an innovative college in terms of good practice, or an entrepreneurial college in terms of business development, or a financially sustainable college, if you do not adopt this approach.

I agree that the managerial, command and control approach does not work. However, I don't think that this is a style of the past - it is still alive and well in a few colleges. If such a style is adopted by the principal, it will often filter down to other managers. There is then the danger that colleges end up with poor industrial relations and a "them and us" divide develops between staff and managers.

If the principal is a visionary leader but rules by fear, good results can be obtained in the short and medium term. But they are not sustainable, because eventually things will go wrong: a crisis will occur and managers will not get the buy-in from staff to help solve the problem.

Christina Potter, principal, Dundee College.

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