One of the most popular books amongst educationalists at the moment is Andy Buck’s “Leadership Matters”. If you have yet to pick up a copy, I’d highly recommend it. The blend of theoretical models and contextual reference, written by a leader with many years of school experience under his belt, has made this work a best-seller and a go-to repository for many of us.
The title, on the face of it, says it all: that leadership in schools is hugely important. In a previous blog, I cited the Hay McBer survey that confirmed the strong correlation between effective leadership and school effectiveness. Again in an earlier blog, I signposted readers towards the work of John C Maxwell and his “Five Levels of Leadership” in which he argues, in the upper echelons, leaders have a ‘multiplier effect’ on their organisations in that by developing other leaders, productivity and effectiveness grows in an exponential rather than linear fashion. As with “Leadership Matters”, I’d recommend it.
In another work, Maxwell shows the cultural shift from “management” (the 1980s) through “leadership” (the 1990s) to “team leadership” (2000s and beyond). Certainly, we can see a shift in nomenclature in our schools. When I started teaching, schools had “SMTs” (senior management teams), supported by “middle managers”. Ambitious staff were sent on “management courses” to develop their skills towards the next stages of their career. Staff were allocated “MA”s (management allowances) for extra responsibilities they held in the school. And so on.
By contrast today, schools are “led” by senior leaders in an SLT, supported by middle leaders and teachers as “leaders of learning”. The profession was supported for almost a generation by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, previously-entitled the National College of School Leadership. Courses such as “Leading from the Middle” were followed by NPQMLs, NPQSLs, and now NPQELs (National Professional Qualification in Middle, Senior, and Executive Leadership respectively). Again, you get the picture.
But in my blog here I want to return to management. With a shift in priorities towards leadership – which is both understandable and desirable – I believe we run the risk of downgrading or neglecting altogether the importance of managerial skills.
So often the term “leadership and management” is used that the words may almost appear to be interchangeable (arguably, as “teaching and learning” became). I think this is a mistake. There are numerous excellent definitions of the difference between the two. Perhaps the more popular, and memorable are that “management is doing things right, and leadership is doing the right things” or (my own preference) Peter Drucker’s “management is the maintenance and development of structures whereas leadership is the maintenance and development of cultures”. I wouldn’t contest either of those definitions as helpful. I would also argue that “doing things right” and “maintaining and developing structures” are really important.
In my experience, great school leaders are so effective because they’ve created the space to lead. They do this in my opinion as often as not through also being great managers. They prioritise, they delegate, they plan, they generate efficiency and capacity, they target resources effectively etc. These managerial facets to their work can ‘clear the road’ so that they, and consequently those around them, can see the way ahead.
To close, I’ll take the liberty of sharing two of my favourite management models with you. The first is the Eisenhower Matrix of “Urgent versus Important”. The diagram below speaks for itself:
So much of the recent drive towards workload reduction is either overtly or indirectly linked to this matrix. If schools and their staff are to have time to plan for their “important” work (the teaching, assessment, and care of children), then the “not urgent” and “not important” functions need to be positioned appropriately or removed altogether.
Great leaders use this matrix instinctively to find their space to lead.
The second model was, I believe, more coined than developed. NASA during the years of the space race devised this to fend off criticism from over-eager senators and presidents. Again, the diagram is self-explanatory:
I think this is a great way of looking at our education system in general and can envisage many a conversation in the Department for Education, and in our schools, entering into the territory of the messages here. If we want educational innovation and improvement to be “fast” and “good” in our schools, it won’t be “cheap”.
I’ll leave you to consider the implications of the alternative permutations. In a context of budgetary constraint, effective managers as well as leaders can help us deliver more with less, and the importance of their skills shouldn’t be totally neglected in the pursuit of leadership excellence.
Thanks for reading.