Good management – the bedrock for good leadership?


“England and America are two countries separated by a common language”    George Bernard Shaw 1856-`1950

It was Shaw’s quotation which came to mind a few years ago when visiting Boston to meet with school principals from throughout the world. The Americans describe school leadership as “administration”.  For us in the UK such a description sits very uncomfortably with all its associations with bureaucracy, paperwork and distance from the learning and teaching process.

Ironically, in my time as an assistant headteacher, depute headteacher and even as headteacher  I was uncomfortable with the title of being a school manager – despite being known as a member of the “school management team”. I was – in  my mind – first and foremost a teacher and a leader and any suggestion that I had moved from having a manager’s perspective was denied at all times.

Even as a head of service I struggled to be closely associated with the concept of being a manager – for such a term conjures up a distant, procedurally obsessed, hierarchical, budget dominated and technically oriented person who has little thought for those in his or her employ, let alone concern for the children we serve.

Yet over the last few years my position has begun to shift. In working closely with headteachers I have come to see that good management is the bedrock upon which good leadership is based. Early in my career I scorned those who could only do the technical tasks involved in school leadership. But as we begin to really engage with the consequences of global financial crisis perhaps we need to reappraise the relationship between management and leadership?

Even a cursory glance through this Learning Log over the last few years should indicate a personal commitment to creating culture where people – at all levels – can innovate and take much more responsibility for creating positive conditions for teaching and learning.  In line with that commitment I have explored models of practice which shift decision making to those who actually engage with learners – as opposed to issuing policy diktats from the centre and expecting them to be implemented.

The next step in that process must be to help school leaders to become more comfortable with their role as managers who facilitate, support and provide space for colleagues,  who in must turn take more control over their own practice. The current drive for distributed leadership actually has significant consequences for the way in which educational leaders have to conduct their business.

If people are to have more freedom they must be able to be clear about the parameters and expectations within which they are working.  They need the security of a manager who can share the accountability agenda and who understands and protects the innovative process. If creativity is to flourish within the system then the expectation that it will always be derived from the “top” needs to be changed and seen to change.

I’m not suggesting here that leaders – lose their capacity to influence the strategic direction of their organisation, department, school, business unit, etc. But that a significant amount of their time is spent on facilitating and supporting a culture which are underpinned by the concepts of freedom and responsibility.

In order for this to happen I reckon the manager at all levels has to  master the following:

Budget transparency and open engagement with all stakeholders about the financial context within which we do our business.

Engagement with the data which indicates the impact of our practice – much, much more than simply considering attainment data.

Clear line management responsibilities where colleagues are supported, enabled and provided with permission to take action.

A willingness, the skills and the organisational support to engage with colleagues whose work does not reach the standards set out in professional codes of practice – e.g. GTCS.

 As I’ve mentioned before, I learned a huge amount from my colleagues in social work who don’t appear to have the same hang ups as those of us in education about the need for them to act as “managers”. Perhaps it’s time for those of us in education to take a lead from their example.