Friday, 3 May 2013

The Most Excellent Way

Spending most of my working life in education, I have worked with individuals in leadership positions whose capacity has ranged from outstanding to downright awful.

In my own experience, the word leadership began to gain currency in education in the early 90s. Until then the mantra was ‘management’.......correspondence was addressed to ‘school managers’.....good head teachers were those who ‘ran a tight ship’.

In the late 80s, politicians and their expert advisers began to examine the reasons for the UKs lack of economic success. It was concluded that schools and colleges needed to change and adapt on a continual basis to enable the country to compete in a rapidly changing global environment. To do this leaders who would foster change and innovation in schools and colleges rather than managers who simply ‘keep the ship ticking over’ would be required.

So began the drive towards leadership development at all levels in the early 1990s. Indeed, leadership training, research and promotion became a new growth industry, spawning a new generation of so-called experts and gurus.  A burgeoning literature of all aspects of leadership from the well-researched to the downright bizarre grew rapidly. Leadership style became a key theme in conferences and staff development materials.

My favourite book on the subject of leadership is Daniel Goleman’s ‘Leadership That Gets Results’. In a three-year study, Goleman identified specific key leadership behaviours and determined their effect on an organisation’s climate, ethos and ultimate success. These are:

·         The pace setting leader. He/she expects and models excellence and self-direction. Summed up in one phrase, it would be ‘do as I do, now.’ Can overwhelm team members and prevent innovation.

·         The authoritative leader. Gets the team moving toward a common vision; focuses on outcomes, leaving the means up to each individual. Does not suit a team where the leader is working with experts who know more than him or her.

·         The affiliative leader. He/she works to create emotional bonds that develop an ethos of belonging to the organisation. This is a ‘people come first’ leadership style.

·         The coaching leader. He/she develops people for the future. It is a ‘try this’, style of leadership. Works best when the leader wants to help each individual in the team build lasting personal strengths.

·         The coercive leader. He/she demands immediate compliance. It is a ‘do what I tell you’ style. Can work in a crisis. To be avoided; alienates people; stifles innovation.

·         The democratic leader. Builds consensus through participation. A ‘what do you think’ leadership style. Most effective when the leader needs the team to support or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal.

Mentioned in only a few of the leadership texts is ‘servant leadership’. As a Christian, I always see Jesus as the servant leader and primary role model.  This passage from the Gospel of Mark is often quoted in discussions of servant leadership:

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘you know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

For me great leaders demonstrate what the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth describes as ‘the excellent way”....the way of love.  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

The acid test for any leader is to look behind and count those who are following. This is an exercise that all leaders should do on a regular basis.  
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