Leadership Skills – are they transferable?

In their recent review of “Leadership for Learning” the HMie point out that the report:
“……adopts a cross-sectoral approach which asserts that the principles of effective leadership are common to all sectors although the challenges and methods of approach may well vary depending on context”.. pg 2
I found this  very interesting, particularly as I’ve just returned from America where I had been surprised by the  number of high school principals who had started their management careers in elementary (primary) schools or middle schools.
One of the reasons that I was so surprised is that the system there is so performance measurement oriented – in other words if something doesn’t improve the numbers it won’t be continued.  Yet there is no apparent difference in the performance of schools led by leaders who have only worked in the high school setting and those who are led by leaders who were first in the elementary setting.
So where does that leave us in Scotland? Well is doesn’t happen! – so why not? One of the reasons often given is that “Primary schools are so different from secondary schools “the examination system, the timetable,  pupil behaviour, structure of departments, and often the difference in the number of pupils “- yet one could argue that such elements are all at the technical end of the spectrum, i.e.  they can be learned.
What’s been reinforced in all reports and literature relating to educational leadership is that the big management issues – i.e. people and culture are completely the same between primary and secondary.
When I moved from being a secondary head teacher to being head of education – no one batted an eyelid – yet no one could have suggested that I had all the technical knowledge necessary for me to do the job. The reality is that I had developed a set of transferable leadership and management skills  which allowed me to take up my post and the rest I’ve had to learn on the job.
So why couldn’t an outstanding primary head teacher be considered for a position as head teacher of a secondary school – especially when we are experiencing such a shortage of high quality candidates for such posts.
If the reason is to do with size then that would mean that any head teacher of a small secondary school could never be considered for the post of head teacher of a large secondary school – which would never happen.
Of course the direction of travel could not be limited to one direction, in such a system it would be possible for secondary teachers to gain important leadership experience by being appointed to management posts in primary schools. I can think of huge benefits to be gained from such cross-fertilization, where such an experience could prove to have a long term impact upon how staff think and act in relation to the sectoral partners.
Both the Association of Headteachers an Deputes Scotland (AHDS) and HAS (Headteachers Association Scotland) recognise the huge leadership crisis facing Scotland in the next few years with the need to nurture and develop our leaders of the future.
I can think of no better way of developing our future leaders than by actively placing them into sectors with which they are not familiar.  Just imagine the range of skills and knowledge that the person would develop if they were to experience three years in another environment.
So what are the barriers to such a plan? Well I can think of several:  parents might wonder, “How will they control the kids?”; secondary teachers – steeped in their subject area- might think “They just don’t understand what is required to get kids through Highers”; job sizing issues might limit some from making the switch; and the GTCS might have something to say – although none of these are insurmountable. It’s interesting to reflect that there might be less of an obstacle for a person going “the other way” – in fact there are examples of such appointments happening in the past.
The real question is that given the emerging leadership crisis in Scotland can we afford to prevent any talented person who might have the necessary school leadership skills from applying for a postion for which they might be well suited?

5 thoughts on “Leadership Skills – are they transferable?

  1. I came into teaching with significant leadership (and technical) experience from industry, naively believing those who said it would be greatly valued and used to the benefit of the children. What I’m finding is that in the main, present leaders’ attitudes to prior experience are patronising at best, even openly disdainful. It’s infuriating.

    I still have and apply leadership skills I gained in the military and developed in industry, tackling technical and commercial challenges around the world from Seattle to Shajiao. Leadership skills are indeed transferable. I’m considering if I shouldn’t transfer them right back into industry where they are wanted.

  2. Don, Here is an extract from one of management guru Tom Peters’ recommended top 5 books, “Execution” by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck:

    “(Their book) mapped out “a system for getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through.” Identifying and developing leadership talent lies at the core with the goal not to evaluate people for what they are doing today, but for the positions they will hold tomorrow. Leaders then lay out clear goals everyone in the organization can understand, follow-through to clear internal obstacles, and reward the doers who are producing results. Finally, organizations that understand execution inject a healthy dose of realism into their culture through open, informal dialogue to eliminate false consensus and by making needed changes today rather than waiting for tomorrow for things to get better.”

    source: http://800ceoread.com/blog/archives/007183.html (10th Aug, 2007)

  3. Don, a possible opportunity for focus group with current managers/leaders in East Lothian to get answers to some of these questions. I hope to look at transferable skills and learning organisations this year for my studies – hope we can discuss when we meet in a couple of weeks time.

  4. Pingback: Bill’s Outdoor Learning Blog » Blog Archive » From Climber to Leader - A metaphor for transferrable leadership skills? - Some thoughts on transferring leadership.

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