Colleges need to nurture new managers, developing them into senior leaders who will transform their establishment and drive it to success. Only by realising and challenging the common failings in educational leadership will we be able to foster the leaders that our institutions need. So what are the main lessons that FE leaders need to learn?
During my first experience of institutional review, the college I worked at was energised and united behind a common message of having embarked on a “journey to outstanding”. The vice-principal led the college on a mission that was inescapable, from “town hall” meetings to posters and newsletters. The desire to succeed was infectious across all levels of the college, with everyone drawn to the shared ethos of the pursuit of excellence.
Not surprisingly, the college eventually achieved the Ofsted outstanding grade that it had been working towards. The importance of effective communication as a leadership tool to express our college’s mission, to strengthen understanding and to ensure that an alignment to cross-college objectives was a key factor in that success.
Create leaders, not managers
As the saying goes: “People don’t leave bad organisations, they leave bad managers.” In teaching, we spend a significant period of time learning to do our job, with competency in that role tested and assessed in the form of teaching and learning observations. If we are regarded as being a capable teacher, we could find ourselves promoted to a leadership role. Somehow, the conclusion is that being an excellent teacher equates to potential and competency as a leader.
In education, we promote people out of the role in which they have demonstrated proven ability and into an entirely different role, namely, leadership. Furthermore, it is very rare to see colleges taking the time to develop, mentor or coach these new leaders. When training does take place, it is often solely in management processes, leaving the new manager to their own devices and their staff to deal with the fallout.
Aim for leadership without ego
In my most recent position, I worked directly for the dean of the college, who was also a former officer in the British Army. I have never worked for a better boss or for a better leader. It became apparent that the success of his leadership resided not in his years of training and understanding of theory, but in the total lack of ego that governed his leadership, which came from his military experience. The dean had little to prove and, as such, was entirely focused on the college mission, trusting and developing staff to achieve the college’s objectives, while dispelling that other common frustration in the manager-staff relationship: micromanagement.
Russell Sheath is a former senior leader at an FE college in Saudi Arabia
Leaders are made, not born
Floyd Woodrow spent more than 20 years in the SAS, and received the UK’s second-highest award for gallantry, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for his services in Iraq. He is the co-author of Elite! The secret to exceptional leadership and performance, and has experience of developing leaders at all levels of education, business, sports and government. He spoke to TES about the common challenges faced by leaders and areas for development in educational leadership.
The skill of leadership
“Leadership is a skill that requires constant development – no one is born with all the components on Day 1,” Woodrow says. “The most important element is to be honest about your own strengths, as well as some areas you may need to improve. The most dangerous time is when you start to think you are a perfect leader.”
“Communication and your ability to adapt your communication style – not your message – to the audience is another component of great leadership,” says Woodrow, who began his career as one of the youngest ever entrants to the SAS, aged 22.
“Understanding how to make contact with a team, how to gain rapport and understand their needs, how to build trust and then how to influence, problem-solve and persuade are key components of leadership,” he adds.
Having worked to coach and unlock potential in leaders at all levels of education, Woodrow believes that leaders should “develop others by empowering their teams and making them accountable”. He adds: “Leadership is about developing your team to be better leaders than you. Your job is not to do other people’s jobs, rather it is to be strategic and to allow your teams to hit each milestone themselves.”