Alexander the Great, David Brent and Julius Caesar?
Our desire to seek out new ways to inspire, coerce, challenge, surprise, excite and, yes, to lead lies undiminished. One look at the bookshelves in the ‘Business Management’ section of Waterstones will show us that we continue to crave that magic formula, the missing ingredient, a solution to our leadership quandaries. We search for the key words that will turn us from ordinary human beings into skillful managers.
1. A Business Manager. Increasingly, in these post credit-crash days, Governors are looking for some commercial acumen. The Head must have the ability to deal with the financial aspects of the business, to understand a balance sheet, a cash flow forecast and budgets, KPI’s, and be able to react to the shifting financial performance of the school. We are not looking for an Alan Sugar or a Nigel Lawson, but this has become one of the illusive attributes we yearn to find.
2. A Salesman. The Head is the focus of the marketing of the school and must therefore be comfortable in the spotlight. The school must be promoted at every opportunity and so the Head must search out new market opportunities, different platforms and that USP.
3. Interpersonal Skills. Running a school full of pupils who are, after all, children, demands exceptional interpersonal skills. You may be able to succeed without a huge personality in front of the Governors, but pupils quickly detect a shrinking violet and they will soon forget you are there at all. This point is often overlooked in the selection of a Head, but you will fail unless you have an outgoing persona in your toolkit.
4. A Good CV. Governors are inevitably drawn to an outstanding cv which includes a perfect set of qualifications, evidence of intellectual capacity and an abundance of ‘appropriate’ experience. They always look for a proven record of success and achievement at the right level. Right or wrong, they won’t risk appointing a car salesman with a yearning to be a teacher! I must point out that we do our best to check the facts in a CV, so don’t be tempted to embroider the truth.
5. A Strong Constitution. A self-sufficient personality is required, with vigorous good health and plenty of stamina. The Head should show the ability to be physically healthy without interruption, to be a passionate enthusiast with a buoyant outlook, and to have the determination to convert every twist and turn of fate into an opportunity. The constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros will take you a long way.
6. Charisma. Maybe it’s just my opinion but I want a Head with charisma. I want George Clooney crossed with Holly Willoughby crossed with Barak Obama crossed with Miss Piggy. Of course, every school wants that charismatic, inspirational, visionary and ambitious person, but sometimes it’s hard to identify these characteristics in an interview situation. Candidates tend to hide this trait, pretending to be serious, professional individuals akin to Eeyore. Be captivating, charming, fascination and mesmerizing. I dare you.
I remember fondly at a Cross Association Junior School Conference (what a mouthful!), organised by Jane Carroll and the GSA team, we were treated to a most imaginative exploration of leadership styles. Phyllida Hancock, an associate of Contender Charlie, bravely took the graveyard slot at the end of the conference, speaking to everyone who had not escaped to beat the Friday afternoon traffic jams on the M1, M6 or M25. She gave a stunning and memorable presentation which examined the leadership skills given by Shakespeare to Henry V at the battle at Agincourt . What were the skills that meant that he could overcome any odds and be successful? The play provides an almost perfect example of how to ensure that an impossible project can be achieved if your troops are behind you. Surely that is the key to good leadership? If you inform, inspire, excite and clearly communicate the vision to all, then your troops, even if they are vastly outnumbered (as all teachers are) will achieve the goal. It all depends on making sure that you are all carried in the same direction and can focus on the ultimate success.
My long journey home gave me time to reflect on what I had heard, and to reflect on the fact that I spend too much of my life these days in Knutsford Services. The conclusion that I came to regarding Agincourt was that we are all given a place in history, no matter how small it may be, when we must show our leadership qualities and go, once more, into the breach, dear friends. It is Governors who decide whether their vacant Headship will be bestowed upon us, and whether this will be our breach, so to speak.
Governors are definitely looking for a Henry V character. They need someone with strength who, in the night before the battle, learns some home truths and acts upon them. They want a person with emotional intelligence who recognises when things are going wrong, and can change tack, whilst keeping the trust and respect of the troops. They will settle for a strong character who has learnt from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunate and can optimistically build a visionary future for the school.
You see, it is what others see in you that is the key. You can have all the manuals, degrees, revision courses, webinars, powerpoint presentations and KPIs in the world, but you will fail unless you truly look like a leader. Yes, leadership is in the eye of the beholder, so make sure that we can see it clearly, like a lighthouse in the fog of the interview process.