When I first started teaching in the 1980s we talked about management a lot. I think the earliest course I was allowed out of school on was “Women into management”, schools had senior management teams and we referred constantly to “the management” when talking about the head, deputies and senior teachers. There was a gradual evolution during the 1990s into talking more about leadership. Senior teams were renamed as senior leadership teams and we discussed endlessly the difference between management and leadership.
I don’t think this was necessarily intended by anyone, but a clear feeling emerged that it was leadership that was important; managers just got things done, but strategy was all about leadership. This permeated the entire system: many of us began talking about our heads of department as middle leaders. CPD very often focussed almost exclusively on skills that were defined as leadership skills in order to prepare heads of department for senior leader roles. We talked about the old models of ensuring people did things as opposed to the new models of winning hearts and minds to vision, of developing others and scanning horizons for adaptation to environmental factors.
When I got my first headship I began by insisting that senior mangers in charge of administration, finance and facilities attended senior leadership meetings. I wanted the senior mangers to have the status they deserved and for everyone to understand each others roles more fully. It didn’t work as the managers got totally fed up with listening to curriculum discussions.
When I built an academy structure I established two teams – a senior management team of the administration, finance, ICT and facilities, and a senior leadership team. This worked reasonably as long as there were regular joint meetings with tight agendas, and as long as I maintained a very close relationship with each senior manager. I have to be honest and admit that these two prerequisites for effective working were not always adhered to and communication between leadership and management relied too often on an exceptional relationship between me and the Finance Director which doesn’t build sustainability into the system.
Hindsight and time for reflection and reading have led me to believe that we have all too often built problems into the system by seeing leadership and management as separate strands when in fact they are impossible to separate. I think we need to reclaim management as completely integral to leadership. We simply cannot operate effectively with colleagues at all levels charging about being leaders without developing high level management skills. I’ll go further: very often when things go wrong in a school it is because people at a very high level have not demonstrated any managerial competence, despite clear vision and communication. Everyone knows what needs to be done, everyone is on board, but the translation into operational strategy has lacked effective management.
When I was doing my MBA I was taught there were five pillars of strategy:
Corporate strategy. This is all to do with building the vision of the organisation, building alliances, determining the market and scope of the organisation and exploiting synergies and skills.
Resource and capability strategy. This is about acquiring and leveraging resources and strengthening capabilities within the organisation.
Functional strategy. This is about dividing the organisation into units on the basis of the skills and resources required to deliver.
Business unit strategy. This is where a manager is held accountable for the operation of the unit and controls the resources which allow it to perform with clearly identified targets for performance.
Operational strategy. This is about day-to-day operational tactics.
I recently led a seminar with middle leaders and discussed this with them. I wanted to hear their views about which pillars of strategy required excellent managerial skills and which required excellent leadership skills. I wanted to see how they saw the five pillars of strategy operating in their organisation. I think this is a worthwhile task for us all to do with staff at all levels before we plan our next three year CPD programmes.
My current thinking is that it is in the business unit that we develop the excellence around managerial skills which are needed in all the other pillars. My concern is that all too often we are in a big rush to develop colleagues’ thinking and skills around the corporate strategy. How often do we hear about a colleague “he can talk the talk, but ….”? How often do fantastic strategic plans fail at the operational level?
I went back to look at “Great by Choice” by Collins and Hasen (2011). They identify three core behaviours of the leaders of exceptional organisations. They make me smile every time I read them: FANATIC DISCIPLINE (consistency and utterly relentless, monomaniacal focus on goals), EMPIRICAL CREATIVITY (practical experimentation and direct engagement with evidence, creative moves from a sound empirical basis), PRODUCTIVE PARANOIA (being hyper-vigilant, attuned to environmental threats and developing contingency plans)
It is absolutely clear that these behaviours rely on strong managerial competence as much as they do on inspiration, vision and communication. More importantly for these organisations to be exceptional the leaders need to have ensured that throughout the organisation there are individuals who demonstrate excellent management and leadership skills simultaneously.
I said about an organisation I led when it opened: All are teachers, all are leaders. If I was doing it over I’d say: All are teachers, all are leaders and all are managers. I think if we reclaim management, remarry it with leadership in all that we say and do, and teach it in CPD we will begin to see improvement in how the great strategic ideas in our schools translate into operational practice.