What it takes to be a leader

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Pat Collarbone, an academic who runs the London Leadership Centre at the Institute of Education, has a favourite demonstration when talking to people about running schools. It's called the rock experiment.

She takes a large glass bowl, a few large rocks, some smaller stones and tiny pebbles, some sand and a lot of water. She starts by filling the the glass bowl with large rocks and then asks her audience if it is full. Some people say it is, so she puts in the stones. And then the pebbles. Next it's the sand. And finally the water .

It is obvious to the audience that if you reversed the order, the large rocks could never be squeezed in, so the message is clear: get your priorities right .

One of the most important priorities for Pat Collarbone, she told the TESKeele University Improving Schools Network seminar last week, is training and developing school leaders.

And by leaders she means not some omni-competent, all-knowing director of staff. Headteachers, she says, must be learners too. They depend on their staff if their schools are to achieve the best results.

She quotes Max de Pree, the American management guru, who says:

"Leadership, like jazz, is a public performance, dependent on so many things: the environment, the volunteers in the band, the need for everybody to perform as individuals and as a group, the absolute dependence of the leader on the members of the band."

Schools need to be learning organisations for everyone involved in them: the leaders are designers, stewards, conductors and teachers, responsible for learning. But too often headteachers see themselves as purely leaders, not learners, as staff developers not people who need to develop themselves.

Pat Collarbone sees it as her job, and the job of other leadership centres being set up around the country, to change that culture. "Leadership relates to vision, direction and inspiration while management is about planning, getting things done and working effectively with people," she says. "Good management controls complexity; effective leadership produces useful change.

"The challenge for schools as learning organisations is to recognise that leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action."

She lists the qualities that tomorrow's leaders need to have: l belief in themselves combined with a level of self-doubt. Heads must be able to take risks, to take others into an unknown world, but also to admit when they are wrong and listen to the ideas of others; * passion for the job coupled with an awareness of the outside world. It's the passion that drives the vision, but unless that passion is tempered with awareness of the world outside it can become blinkered; * A love of people and a capacity for aloneness. Unless you love people, you won't have any followers. But leadership can be lonely, particularly when difficult decisions have to be made or mistakes corrected.

The London Leadership Centre enables headteachers to be seconded for a term to conduct their own research. For further details, visit the website (http:www. ioe.ac.ukllc) or telephone 0171 612 6619

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