Thoughts on Leadership, Management and Change

Today I attended the first day of the Developing Leaders for tomorrow (Primary) programme from the National College and the SSAT. This is a 14 month course looking at various aspects of school leadership, including regional visits and a school based project. The day has provided me with many themes for reflection

The big theme of today was definitions of leadership. What interested me was the complexity of the issue, such that it was a real challenge for us to come to a shared understanding of what leadership is. Words such as ‘inspiring’, ‘supportive’ and ‘visionary’ were discussed a lot, but these are broad brush strokes and getting to the point where everyone is interpreting these in the same specific way in order to discuss their influence in a meaningful way is difficult.

I think one of the problems of discussing ‘leadership’ in this way is it is often presented as being diametrically opposed to ‘management’. We talked about the qualities of leaders as being inspirational, supportive figures, people who manage change and provide exciting opportunities for learning well matched to the needs of their learners, both children and staff. What I think is often left out of this, but was touched on during the day, was that this needs to be underpinned by  a structure that enables the more ‘visionary’ ideas to flourish in a sustainable way.

Rather than taking leadership as the next evolutionary stage after management, I think management is essential to support leadership, and that the two really need to go hand in hand. To introduce visionary ideas without the structures in place to support and nurture them is, to me, just as undesirable as micro managing an organization without a clear vision in place. Therefore, I think any successful leader needs to have their eye firmly on the issues of both leadership and management for transformative, and sustainable change to happen.

To me, the most effective leaders are those who have that visionary, idealistic thinking and inspire their staff with high expectations, but also enable those expectations to be met through managerially supporting their day to day needs.

The idea of leading change also came up a lot. I do worry about the concept of ‘change’, in that these days in education we often talk of change for change’s sake. I am no educational conservative, but I do think that we are often too quick to decide that ‘change’ must equate to ‘progress’ in schools. Semantically I think it would be more appropriate to come up with a term that defines a constant state of flux; one that is always shifting in response to the needs of cohorts and staff. Without this we risk promoting a model whereby significant organizational change is expected as people are promoted or recruited for no reason other than they are expected to make ‘their mark’.

What is needed is a constant state of adaptive change, in which the organization adapts organically to the needs of those involved. As I see it right now, this needs to be by allowing those at the business end of a school, i.e. classroom teachers but more importantly the learners themselves, to have a genuine say in how the organization functions. To do great work people need to be inspired, and inspiration comes from being given ownership, time to reflect, and the remit and permission to creatively act on that reflection.

So, to me, great leadership is about being responsive to the needs and interests of learners and staff, and supporting the adaptation of the organization to these needs using structured management as an enabling force.

It is about lighting the fires of inspiration where they need to be lit, but being content to merely tend those fires that are burning well of their own accord.


12 responses to “Thoughts on Leadership, Management and Change”

  1. David Watson Avatar
    David Watson

    Excellent points Oliver. A thoughtful and reflective post.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks David, glad you found it of value. I found the points in your talk about your vision of an ‘Issues led’ curriculum, and how you have worked to support that in terms of management really influenced my thinking.

  2. Phil Bagge @baggiepr Avatar
    Phil Bagge @baggiepr

    I agree a good manager will recognise that they will not have every inspiring idea in an organisation and will allow/encourage leadership/inspiration from anyone at any level of the organisation. Good leadership draws people in and empowers them. An interesting blog post thanks.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Phil, glad you found it of interest. I do think that empowerment often is the key to getting the best out of people in an organisation. It has certainly got the best out of me in the past!

  3. Sonia Avatar

    Great reflection! I completed this course in June and found this course very inspiring. I also found using the Ning great for sharing ideas

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Sonia. I agree, and I do hope our Ning develops to allow a shared understanding of these matters to develop.

  4. Mark Allen Avatar
    Mark Allen

    Spot on, Oliver. Visionary leaders can’t implement their ideas without a team which shares and understands their aims. That means – in anything larger than a one-person organisation – ‘selling’ the vision and managing its implementation at the rate which is appropriate for that group of people. Go too fast, and you will break the thing. These are fundamental ‘management’ skills.

    Actually, it mostly boils down to communication: making sure that people understand where you’re heading and what their role is in that journey.

    One of the problems is that ‘management’ is also used to describe the day-to-day operational activity needed to keep any organisation functioning, and which has nothing to do with vision at all.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Mark. I think the point you raise about coming to a shared understanding is really important. I have come to realise through using social networking at other events that this is something that is so often not achieved. I think for an event or organisation to be deeply effective everyone needs to come to a shared awareness of how their own and other people’s contributions and thinking fit into the landscape.

      I am going to be presenting on this at our next event on this course, and I am very interested to see where my thinking on this fits in with other people in the cohort.

      I do think that day to day operational stuff is equally important, and would disagree slightly in your assertion that it has nothing to do with vision. The day to day management is about supporting the vision and enabling it to happen. This is about providing what is needed on the ground for aspects of the vision to flourish, but also getting to a stage where the day to day is ‘ticking over’ so that people’s time and energy is freed up for more activity related to the ‘vision’.

  5. Simone Haughey Avatar

    I really enjoyed your reflections on this. Reflecting does go a long way! I don’t think there seems to enough time reflect fully in my job! I also agree that inspiration and high expectations from a leader would get the best out of me. Looking forward to hearing more about the course.

  6. […] written my last post on my perception of the importance of management and leadership going hand in hand, I had an incident this week that has caused me to reflect […]

  7. Carl Hendrick Avatar
    Carl Hendrick

    Very insightful. I think the key part of this post is:

    ‘…the most effective leaders are those who have that visionary, idealistic thinking and inspire their staff with high expectations, but also enable those expectations to be met through managerially supporting their day to day needs.’

    This strikes at the heart of why so many schools are failing today. There is a huge disjunction between what is expected from frontline teachers and the type of provision put in place for them by senior managers who feel that using business-speak and wearing a suit means you are efficient. A classic example is of a school that has media on it’s curriculum but bans YouTube and mobile phones.

    Unfortunately in schools, the most dynamic and creative staff are usually the ones who stay in the classroom because they love the kids and are passionate about their subject. The ones who get into senior management are too often the ones who are the least creative and inspiring.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Carl. That’s an interesting point of view, I need to think more about how I stand on that one! I know the AST and Excellent teacher roles were created to provide some progression for those who wanted to remain creative and in the classroom whilst progressing in their careers. I have also spoken to some people who felt that they could only progress so far without moving into management, but then felt they lost the potential to be creative. On the other hands there are creative heads out there who still have a huge impact on the learning that happens in the classrooms in their schools. A very tricky issue!

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