Leadership Legacy

One of the recurring pleasures I have in life is coming into contact with people who knew my late father.  He had been a family doctor for over 40 years and had selflessly ministered to the needs of a close-knit community throughout that time.

Having a relatively unusual surname people ask me whether or not he was any relation and inevitably, upon hearing that he was my father, launch into telling me stories about how he had helped them – and usually their family. The stories of impact are even stronger from those who worked with him – especially young doctors who came into contact with him as trainees.  It often transpires that he has had a seminal impact upon those individuals who used him as a role model and exemplar upon which they based their own future behavior.

Now the point of this story is to explore what it is to be a leader.  I use the leader here in its more general sense, as I would describe anyone who has a role in supporting and shaping a community as a leader, in his own terms, my father was a leader in his community, just as would be a teacher, or minister, or a sports coach, etc.

As I read leadership programmes and courses it strikes me that my father hadn’t been trained in any of the theory or mechanics of leadership – yet he had developed an intuitive understanding of how to engage with individuals that inspired confidence, interest and self-belief.

It was while trying to think about the characteristics of high quality leadership that I came to the conclusion that it can only really be measured in terms of legacy – and not short-term legacy on an organisation, but on long-term legacy on the life and behaviour of individuals.

So what are those characteristics that mark out the person that leave such a legacy? As regular readers of this column are aware I like the number seven – so in order to arbitrarily limit this list I’ll stick to what I reckon are the seven features of long-term leadership legacy.

The first of these is ‘passion’, a passion for what they do, and a level of enthusiasm that rubs off on all those around them to the extent that we are infected by that same passion.

The second characteristic of leadership legacy is ‘truth’. People often use the description authentic leadership – but put more simply we are naturally drawn to people who have an inner sense of being ‘true’ to themselves first and foremost – and through that sense we are more inclined to place our trust.

The third, is ‘knowledge’, I’m not talking here of people who can absorb every fact about their chosen area and regurgitate it at will – but about people who have a depth of understanding about their area of work and who carry that knowledge very lightly and allow it to be demonstrated through what they do – rather than what they say.

Fourthly, those who leave a lasting leadership legacy are driven by a sense of ‘duty’ and service which transcends self-interest – in fact it can occasionally become self-harming – but it’s exactly that element of self sacrifice which makes such people so appealing in a world where we come to think that there is an ‘angle’ on everyone’s behaviour.

The fifth feature is an ‘interest’ in other people – once again not through what the person can get out of that relationship but simply the pleasure to be gained through seeing them developing their own passions and abilities.  We talk of mentoring and coaching but ultimately it’s a matter of simple human relationships where one person passes on something of deep worth to another person – and in so doing gains enough from that unsophisticated transaction.

The penultimate feature of leadership legacy is perhaps a little surprising but in my experience those who leave the greatest legacy have a ‘flaw’ – not a huge destructive handicap – but something which reminds us all that they are human beings just like us, capable of the same mistakes and errors, but which put them just within the reach of our imagination enough to encourage us to strive to be like them.

Finally, there’s something about these people that is difficult to put your finger on – Professor Rev. Norman Drummond would describe it as being connected to their ‘spirit’ – a connection between their head and their heart that transforms their behaviour from disconnected actions into a purposeful life.

Looking back on the death of my own father I wrote a poem that same evening and one of the verses read:

Your family extended to a community

And we sought refuge in your knowledge

In your vitality and wisdom.

Protected against our fear of suffering

We passed our worries on

And you absorbed them

Putting them in a black bag

Within your soul.

It’s this notion of ‘soul’ – or essence, if you will,  – that inspires confidence amongst those around such a person to the extent that in challenging times we know things will “turn out to be alright”.

I suppose that if any of us who have leadership roles should have any ambition about our legacy it should be that – sometime, long after we are gone – that someone meets one of our children and tells them that we left something behind in them that still lives on.

Shared Services – taking account of the emotional perspective

On the 22nd November East Lothian Council and Midlothian Council approved the first phase of sharing operational and management support for education and children’s services.

This was the culmination of 12 months work by a huge number of people to address the issues and challenges which emerged in the course of that process.

That work included research into governance, tax, human resources legislation, accountability, service redesign, and a range of other pragmatic issues. Yet if there was one factor which was not covered in sufficient depth it was the emotional response to shared services.

That response can be characterised as a deep personal concern for the future, where the current certainties are replaced by fear and uncertainty. That is not to say that there are any certainties for anyone involved in delivering public services in Scotland, the UK, or Europe for that matter, it’s just that shared services provides a concrete focus upon which people can attribute their fears.

That’s why it’s interesting to reflect upon a recent research report into the perceptions and realities of employees regarding shared services.

The research surveyed the opinions of over 100 UK public sector representatives, from functions spanning HR, payroll, finance, purchasing and IT.

The majority of respondents (72%) were from government and education, with blue light services and health organisations also included.

Organisations generally anticipated more negative impacts than proved to be the case for those who had already implemented shared services.

This negative perception was most significant for areas like job security, where 67% of respondents felt that sharing services would impact negatively. This figure increased significantly for operational employees where 8 in 10 feared for their jobs. In contrast, out of those that had already implemented shared services, over half reported a positive effect on job security (51%) and career development (53%), while the positive effects on skills development (81%) and job satisfaction (74%) were even more convincing.

This research seems to show the tendency for organisations and individuals to overestimate the difficulties of shared services and to underestimate the benefits that can be delivered. Those organisations not sharing anticipated that a shared service would be significantly less positive in areas that are closest to employees’ hearts than those already sharing had experienced.

If there is a lesson from such research for those of us who are embarking, or about to embark on shared services, it is that the emotional perspective is vitally important and that it should be considered throughout the change process. That’s not to say that we should decide whether or not to proceeed with shared services on an emotional whim, but that rather we should recognise and continually address the emotional response it generates.

Campaign against budget cuts in Scottish education

Net Local Authority Revenue Expenditure by Service (%)

The Educational Institute of Scotland is running a campaign against any budget cuts in Scottish Education.

A march was held in Glasgow today at which thousands of teachers, parents and lecturers joined to protest against any education budget reductions under the banner “why must our children pay?”

As a teacher and passionate advocate for education I understand and support the sentiment and motivation behind the campaign but I can’t quite see how it’s going to be possible to ring fence any single service within the Scottish public service environment – for all that it might make my job a lot easier.

No less a person than Sir John Elvidge ,  Scotland’s senior civil servant, speaking at an event on the 29th January, warned that public service spending in Scotland is likely to be reduced by 10 per cent in real terms in three years time and 20 per cent in seven years compared to current levels. He went on to say:

“I think one of the hardest questions that faces us all as managers is how will the trend of real terms reductions last. 

 I think, without getting into political territory, it’s difficult to identify the point of certainty at which one says: ‘Ah, yes, it will      definitely have turned round by then.’ And all I’d say is, that if one looks beyond four years, at that rate of annual real terms reduction and taking into account compounding, it doesn’t take very long to get to 20 per cent instead of 10 per cent.”

Taking Elvidge’s figure of 10% (which will be closer to 12% with the compounding effect) I thought it might be useful to explore the impact on public services in Scotland.

The most recent figures we have available for Scottish education expenditure relate to the financial year 2007-2008.  In that year the revenue expenditure was £4.7 billion.  Using this figure , although it’s likely to be much closer to £5 billion in the current year, a 10% reduction would equate to £470 million.  The logic must be that if this sum is not to be picked up by education then it must be passed onto some other Scottish public service.  So who would be best placed to pay this bill?

The Scottish Health service had expenditure of £8.9 billion in 2006/2007.  Their share of the 10% savings would be £890 million – so perhaps they have their fair share of the challenge and the focus should lie elsewhere?

So how about the cost of running the Scottish Government?  The 2010/2011 draft budget for running the core administration of the government is £258.3 million – which is dwarfed by the £470 million three-year saving which would be required of education.

Of course Scottish education (apart from further and higher education) is funded though Local Authorities – there must be significant opportunities for the burden to lie with other Local Authority Services? 

Education’s average share of the total revenue expenditure for Local Authorities in 2007-2008 was 42.6% . The table shown above describes how education and and social work – which includes child protection and community care – takes that proportion up to 65%. Then add police, fire and emergency planning and you’re up to nearly 80%.  Throw in roads and transport, economic development and environmental services and the total is well beyond 90%.

The reality is that Local Authorities cannot meet a 10% saving from its net revenue expenditure of £11.1 billion, i.e. £1.11 billion, from the remainder of those services which might not be deemed as sacrosanct as some of those listed previously.

Perhaps John Elvidge gets close to the truth when he suggested:

“This is going to be an enormous challenge for any system – and it tells us that the right thing for all public sector managers to be doing at the moment is to err on the side of pessimism in their forecasts, and radicalism in their thinking.” (my emboldened type)

For me it’s this latter trait which will require all involved in education to adopt if we are to safely navigate these difficult waters over the next few years.

I’ll leave the last words with John Elvidge:

“I think the shape of delivery of at least some public services is going to look completely different. I wish I knew which ones they were and which ones will look different, but it’s obvious that we can’t simply continue to run the models that we run for delivery of various public services,”

Is transparency worth it?

Since coming into my post as Head of Education in 2005 and subsequently as Director of Education and Children’s Services I’ve tried to uphold my commitment to conduct our business in an open, honest and transparent manner.  And so it was in that spirit that I met a group of parents in early December 2009 who represented the East Lothian Parents’ Councils Association to update them on the budget consultation process and how it directly related to Education and Children’s Services. 

I shared with them all the information which I had given to teachers and other employees during a series of “roadshows” explaining the budget challenges we face for this and future years.  I gave details of the likelihood that all public services may have to make budget reductions in the region of 12-15% over the next three years.  I also explained that we wanted to take a proactive approach towards achieving these  savings – should they be required – rather than simply shaving off budgets to the point where services are unsustainable. To that end we had been working on a draft Remodelling Strategy which would take us through to 2013.  I also explained that given the scale of the task that we were considering bringing in some external support in the form of an accountancy and consultancy company to help us translate our draft strategy into a more robust approach – underpinned by a financial rigour which such a company could provide.  I was asked at the meeting with parents where such funding would come from and I explained that the Council had established in October 2009 a “Change Fund” of £1 million which Services could apply to support any initiative to reduce costs. Comprehensive minutes of the meeting were taken by a parent at that meeting and subsequently shared with all Parent Councils.

In the intervening weeks we have been negotiating with the said company and have come to a formal agreement to procure their services to support an internal team of managers to develop our Remodelling Strategy 2010-2013.  The formal terms of engagement were signed last week and we will be investing £60,000 from the “Change Fund” to support a strategy which may have to possibly generate savings in the region of £11-£14 million in the worst case scenario out of a budget which currently stands at £96 million.

So you can imagine my disappointment – but not surprise – when last week one of our local papers published a letter from a member of a public who  referred to the minute of my meeting with Parents and claimed that the Education Department were going to spend £1 million on bringing in an external consultancy.  The writer of the letter called for more transparency and questioned how such a level of investment could possibly be justified.  Obviously the writer hadn’t taken the time to read the minute of the meeting but I don’t suppose that should get in the way of a good “story”.  The writer made the leap from the minute that we were bringing in a consultancy (at the time of my meeting with parents that was not definite) and secondly the writer mistakenly associated the money in the Change Fund with the fee for an external consultant for Education. 

Which leads me to the question of this post – “Is transparency worth it?”  I suppose I could take this as a lesson and keep my own counsel on anything we are thinking about doing until it is all signed, sealed and delivered.  However, this is not my intention and I will continue to operate in the manner which I believe should characterise all of us in public service – regardless of how careless others might wish to be with the truth.

Postcript: another letter appeared in the paper this week congratulating the writer of the previous week’s letter for “exposing” the authority and proposing that there needs to be an investigation into the spending of £1 million on consultants for education to conduct a “management musical chairs exercise” – (oh if only it was that easy!)

Solution Focused Budget Planning

The challenge of providing a high quality education service at a time when expenditure is growing faster than the available budget means that change, in some form, must take place.

There is a tendency in education to always reflect upon such an issue from the moral high-ground and simply state that more money must be forthcoming! As the person who is charged with responsibility for a budget of nearly £85 million to deliver education and children’s services for 15,000 children in East Lothian it’s a topic which is constantly at the forefront of my mind.

One of the key factors in managing such a budget is to ensure that everything is absolutely transparent. In East Lothian we have spent a huge amount of time and effort in “opening up” our books – there are no black holes, no smoke or mirrors, no hidden funds. What you see is what we get. When such information is treated as confidential it only goes to feed the suspicion that some groups are being treated more favourably than others.  When everyone can see the entire “pot” it becomes very clear that an increase in one area in education must be subsidised from another area within education.

It was with this in mind that we had our first meeting of a Strategic Finance Group for Education. The group has union representatives from  the EIS, HAS, AHDS, Unison, SSSTA; three parent representatives from East Lothian Parents’ Councils; three senior elected members; three members of the Education Department management team (including me); and a Finance Department Representative. I had hoped to get a couple of pupil representatives – but perhaps next time.

The group spent all morning reviewing the available budget for the coming two years (2009-2010/2010-2011); identifying and discussing possible areas where savings could be made; and planning for our next meeting.  The traditional approach to this process is for management to sit in a darkened room – consider the options, present these options to the administration and then implement them across the authority. This alternative approach turns this on its head by involving the stakeholders at the outset of the process and ensuring that there are no sacred cows such as central services which cannot be offered up for savings. The meeting was exceptionally enlightening as we approached each suggestion with true professionalism and objectivity. As stated earlier we have to make savings if we are to work within our available budget – the challenge is where these savings might be made. By involving those who are closest to the “chalk-face” we begin to build up a picture of how we might work together to ensure that any negative impact upon children is minimised.

The ideas which flowed from the meeting will be followed up over the next three months by firstly identifying the amount of money that can be saved by each option and an associated impact assessment for each option.  When we reconvene after the summer we will have produced a list with quantitative and qualitative impacts – this list will then be further considered by the group to identify preferences and recommendations which can then be considered by the administration. The bottom-line -as I reinforced yesterday – is that nothing is off the table in terms of making savings.

One of the key points to emerge was that the process is not as simple as it might seem.  Although some areas seem ripe for savings the knock-on impact they have beyond the immediately obvious makes it all the more important that the stakeholders present on the group have an opportunity to have their say.

“Scary” – me??

 Someone said to me today that some people found me scary. 

I laughed it off but it’s set me to wondering.

I really don’t like the idea that anyone would be put off coming to speak to me because they were scared. 

As ever Gill put it into context – “it depends what people mean by scary?”

Competition – a dirty word in education?


I spent today at the AHDS (Assocation of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland) Conference where I led a couple of workshops about the Seven Sides of Educational Leadership.

I’ll posts a series of short posts about elements of the conference and I’ll kick off with something which Jim Reid (one of the founders of Wolfson Electronics) said about leadership in the commercial world. Jim believes that one of the key characteristics of good leadership is competition. He related this to knowing where the competition was and benchmarking his practice against others.  Jim also stressed the importance of us being competitors in a global environment and the fact we need to take account of what our “competitors” are doing in relation to their education systems.

I couldn’t help feeling a sense growing unease from the audience as he explored this idea.  Competition is not something which people in education are comfortable with – “we don’t do it to be better than other people”.  

Yet I understood what he was getting at – if we want to be good (or “excellent” in education) then we must refer to how others do. As much as we might like to disagree,  quality is not criterion referenced – what was excellent ten years ago would not be excellent now – our competitors have moved on – we do get measured against others , i.e. norm referenced. 

Perhaps if we were really honest with ourselves we might admit to some competitive instinct – albeit only in whispers, and then again only in an empty room.

Public Service

It’s accepted practice to give anyone who works for local authorities abuse and criticism.

The picture of petty bureaucrats and people who are not good enough to get jobs in the “real world” is rarely challenged.

When I met recently with David Spilsbury, our Head of Corporate Finance, to discuss issues relating to the education budget I asked him why he did his job – given the amount of stick it generates.  David’s answer was disarmingly simple and sincere – he is committed to the notion of public service. I think this is actually more common than people might imagine and runs through the core of the majority of people with whom I work, and with whom I come into contact during my day-to-day work.

David agreed to come out to a school with me today to look at how his work in managing the council’s finances is translated into public service at the sharp end. We both really enjoyed our time at Preston Lodge and I hope it helped him to understand the challenges we face in education whilst we were also able to gain an insight into the many competing demands for a limited council budget.

I will certainly challenge anyone in the future who casually lobs a criticism the way of our finance colleagues without trying to see the bigger picture.

Where do I find the time?

I had a fascinating discussion with some headteachers recently about the time they spend on their jobs, the difficulty of their jobs and challenge that such time pressures and other demands present.

I know I’m presenting a significant challenge by asking headteachers to spend up to two days a week focusing upon the teaching process by observing what’s going on in their schools’ classrooms. The obvious response is “where do I find the time?”

So what are the personal outcomes of such pressures? – 60-80 hour working weeks ; 4-5 hours sleep a night; disrupted sleep patterns were not uncommon – what sort of work/life balance is this? – is it any wonder that people don’t want to become head teachers?

So what are some of the expectations which headteachers have to live up to? (in no particular order):

Have a high profile in and around the school means that you undertake duties such as dinner duty, break time patrol, stair duty, detention duty, gate duty, bus duty

Evening work connected with parents’ evenings; community meetings; parents’ council meetings or school events – usually meaning that you have worked through from 7.30am – 9.00pm – on occasions up to three times a week

Open door policy means that you are often disrupted when trying to complete a task – meaning that you either have to do it when everybody has gone for the day, take it home or get in even earlier the next day before anyone else – that’s why headteachers are usually in first and leave last

Correspondence – mail and e-mail are never ending with requests for surveys, responses to the authority, government or other agencies, requests/queries from parents or the  community can fill a day themselves

Managing the consequences of pupil misbehaviour can take up huge chunks of time, with interviews, investigations, phone calls, parental meetings and reporting back to teachers all arising from one incident;

Financial management can be a big burden – even with a business manager – with worries arising from discrepancies causing sleepless nights

Personnel issues ranging from grievances, capabilty, competence and recruitment and associated paperwork are tasks which regularly require significant attention

Meetings outwith school can take up large amounts of time in a week – as the school’s major representative you are often required to attend

Writing policies, plans, letters to parents, newsletters, speeches

Analysing attainment data and the subsequent meetings with principal teachers or teachers

Completing the school improvement paperwork i.e. Planning, self- evaluation and monitoring

Timetabling and curriculum issues are significant issues at certain times of the year – especially if the headteacher is the timetabler

Complaint handling involves investigation, responding and on occasions repeated meetings

Reviewing forward plans from teachers and departments

Requests/demands from parents to see the headteacher “I won’t be fobbed off with anyone else”

Meetings with the senior management team, principal teachers, and staff and individual meetings with senior management colleagues

Teaching can also feature on some headteachers list of duties as they like to maintain credibility with colleagues and maintain contact with the classroom by taking on a class for the year, of course a teaching headteacher in a small school has no such option.

The question which jumps off the page for me here is – “Is it reasonable to expect any person to undertake such a range of competing and cumulatively impossible demands?”

The key driver for this review must be the well-being of our headteachers.

In my next post on this topic I’ll try to explore how we (it needs to be a collective solution) try to create some time within such a pressured existence to be involved in the kind of work that really makes an difference to learning and teaching for children and colleagues.

Reverse Observation?

Following one of my recent posts about political scrutiny I was thinking about whether or not we could expose ourselves to further scrutiny.

What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

I was further provoked in this area when listening to Professor Michael Fullan during yesterday’s Scottish Learning Festival  where he was talking about one of his Six Secrets of Change. Michael Fullan has had a significant impact upon my own thinking over the last 12 years – although I have to admit to finding some of his Secrets being “reheated” ideas from other people – but synthesising these ideas is never a waste of time – particularly if some people are coming to them for the first time.

The secret he “revealed” was “Transparency Rules”. As he talked about the importance of being open to scrutiny I scribbled “reverse observation”.

During this year I’m visiting three schools each week focussing upon the quality of the learning task set by the teacher. Although these visits are announced the week before, the actual classrooms I visit are completely random. My idea – or offer – is to invite any teacher in East Lothian to reciprocate and come and observe me for one day.  The person – who would be drawn at random (assuming there might be more than one volunteer) would come into observe me working for a full day.  I would not know when they were coming in and the visit would be co-ordinated by our Staff Development Team. The person would arrive in my office at the beginning of the day and shadow me for the rest of the day. They would then write up an observation report which I would post on this Learning Log.

So – what do you think – would anybody be interested?